Education Models and the Public Good

Dr. Diane Ravitch wrote today that people already have "school choice" because they can go to any school they want to if they pay for it. I agree (to some degree!). She goes on to argue that public money should be reserved for the "public schools" because they support the public good. Here is where I differ…
Freedom of choice is good, and yes, we have a civic obligation to support the common good of public education.  But fortunately, "We the people” create and define a good public education system within legal bounds.  You (Diane) have drawn nice bold black lines when some lines are “shades of grey.”  Though you are right in saying that citizens often must pay taxes for things they  don’t want or like, this does not mean that our system of government run “common" (secular) schools is the ONLY model to choose as a public education system!  We could institute a “plural” system of public education similar to most of the western world that allows families to pick between diverse government approved religious and secular schools.  You say that religious schools must be paid for with “private” funds, but this is not been accurate for over a decade.  The Constitution (and increasingly the laws of states) allow public money to flow to religious schools when the “religious choice” is made by a private individual.  

The real issue behind the school-choice issue is not whether or not “choice” exists apart from public money, but “What kind of public education system should American tax dollars support?”  This opens a healthy discussion!  Here, I find that our current public education model is severely hampered by church-state limitations that have led to a lack of philosophic depth in the curriculum,  shallow school community, and the poor moral development of our children.  As long as our public schools are government run (and thus subjected to First Amendment restrictions associated with ideological neutrality), this can not change, and we will continue to have schools that reduce education to the teaching of knowledge, skills, and a common morality.

Our nation and public education system were founded upon teaching many ideals that our schools can no longer address.  In the transition, progressive thinking supposed that these ideals did not need to be “taught” or that they were unnecessary to public health.  The truth of this is open for debate, but the point is, we can shape our concept of public education within legal parameters in diverse ways.  I for one believe the "public good" necessitates that the education day reflect deep philosophic meaning and value (which have “religious” foundations).  Since government run schools can only poorly address these issues, and since citizens have diverse religious and “nonreligious” views, this necessitates a “plural" public education system.  You might say my “private choice” can accommodate this belief, but this is not true.  If the public good is our standard, then public money should be utilized to support the “system” that best supports the public’s educational interests.

Public schools used to be presumptuously defined by their public governance and funding structure.  They should more accurately be defined as “schools that serve the public’s educational interests.”  All these schools should be accessible through public funding.  As you say, we have long had a form of “freedom of choice” in education, but the real issue is whether our “common" (secular) model of public education is the best choice to be exclusively aligned with the public’s good.  I hold that it is not.  A plural model of public education can address not only the basics, but the ideals.
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