“Public schools should go away.”

I’ve always thought that such charges were just rhetorical, part of the rant in debate. But no, Monday’s Star Ledger features a Bob Braun column that turns my blood cold.  “Public schools should go away,” emails Teri Adams of the Independence Hall Tea Party.  “Our ultimate goal is to shut down public schools and have private schools only, eventually returning responsibility for payment to parents and private charities. ”

I didn’t grow up in the city.  I grew up in a very small town [Branchville NJ pop 1,000 in the 60’s]. None of us could have gotten an education without public schools. There were no private charities waiting to donate to schools. There were no parochial schools in the area until later as Italian Catholics left the cities for the countryside. Public schools served everyone.  For my family, private schools were the stuff of novels and parochial schools were for maintaining an identity apart whether it be a religious or ethnic identity.

I continue to think that the urge behind privatization and chartering is a move away from the public good. It is the urge to be able to talk about “our kind of people” to our kind of people, certain that we are more worthy than those other people. At its worst, it permits people to describe urban children as “scum” and “hood rats” [see the comments on Braun’s column if you think I made that up].  

I believe that the push to privatize education is using racist, classist tactics to move the substantial money we invest in education into private hands. It is no accident that privatization of education comes as the United States becomes a majority of people of color. In fact, this year more preschool children are of color than white, and the trend will continue as they move through our schools. 

Privatization also comes as we have a larger and larger income gap. More children are in poverty today, both in NJ and the United States, than they were in 2000. And the richer folks can’t wait to get away from the rest of us. See Sunday’s NY Times article about Whittle’s Avenues School for a chilling look at how the rich think.

I think we are having a crisis alright. But it’s not an education crisis. It is a crisis of imagination. Can you believe that working with a wide variety of people of different backgrounds can work? Can you believe that coming from poverty can bring advantages? Will you be led by someone different from you?  Will you finally provide a quality education for ALL our children because they ALL deserve it?

Public schools shouldn’t go away. They should be permitted to do the most important  job in a democracy: prepare the next generation.

Yours truly,