Once a month it seemed, with the coming of the full moon, contractors armed with the detailed plans of the base electrical plans would dig into the ground at LSA Anaconda, Iraq, on yet another project, and cut the power lines. The very men that we were paying to improve our base kept separating us from electricity derived from something besides the myriad generators we relied upon. In spite of our best planning, and their best intentions, this scenario repeated itself too many times to be funny. I think that public schools have this same recurring experience.
Where does the power come from for our public schools? In “Is There a Public for Public Schools”, David Mathews conveys that it used to be the public, and should be the public, but that we as an educator collective in America have excluded the public from public education. He argues that it has not been by design, but rather in response to many cultural forces over time. As the organisms of public schools have become increasingly detached from the public, they have become at the same time increasingly more bureaucratic. This further tears down the bridge between schools and the public, as any bureaucracy’s first mission is its continued survival and maintenance of its status quo. Mathews also contends that as the public has resigned itself to role of funder (and not much else) that it is easy for special interest groups to attempt to push their agendas on school boards and administrators, as there are few if any members of the public at large to counter them. This too has led to school administrators becoming more insular and protective of their domains, which further exacerbates the problem.
So how do we get the power back on?
As educators that run government (taxpayer) funded schools, I believe that we have an obligation to make them once again public. The work will be very hard, as much of state sponsored schools’ interaction with the public has been with our hand out, or in asking for token involvement to satisfy federal mandates. Much of the public is convinced that we are too complex and too far gone to be saved, and that we are too protectionist for them to truly engage with. Like I told the graduating class of Pilot Rock in 1998, you have to put yourself in good dirt (meaning healthy and nurturing surroundings) if you are a plant. Our digging needs to go deeper than the conversation of what needs fixing with schools. Mathews would say we need to engage our public in a conversation of why we have public schools, and what do we want for them to be.