By Wayne Ross, David Gabbard, Kathleen Kesson, Sandra Mathison, and Kevin D. Vinson.
If public schools are to realize their democratizing potential, progressive activists must organize and act on an agenda that counters the neo-liberal view of education that currently dominates. We want to believe that public schools serve us, the public, “We, the people.” We want to believe that schools strengthen our democracy, our ability to meaningfully participate in the decision-making processes that impact our communities and our lives. Educational resources need to be directed towards increasing people’s awareness of the relevant facts about their lives, and to increase people’s abilities to act upon these facts in their own true interests. For the past twenty years significant efforts have been made to establish a statist view of schools that treats teachers as mere appendages to the machinery of the state and seeks to hold them accountable to serving the interests of state and corporate power. Linked as it is to the interests of private wealth, this view defines children’s value in life as human resources and future consumers. In order to combat this movement, progressive media outlets must begin doing more to alert the public to the disastrous consequences it holds for our schools, our children, and our democracy.
Progressives everywhere must begin doing more to demand that our institutions of public education foster critical citizenship skills to advance a more viable and vibrant democratic society. They must push for schools to become organized around preparing young people for active, democratic citizenship through engagement with real-world issues, problem-solving, and critical thinking, and through active participation in civic and political processes. Informed citizenship in a broad-based, grassroots democracy must be based on principles of cooperation with others, non-violent conflict resolution, dialogue, inquiry and rational debate, environmental activism, and the preservation and expansion of human rights. These skills, capacities, and dispositions need to be taught and practiced in our nation’s schools.
Progressives must also push harder to ensure that all schools are funded equally and fully, eliminating the dependence on private corporate funds and on the property tax, which creates a two-tiered educational system by distributing educational monies inequitably. Promoting greater equality in educational opportunity must also include demands for universal pre-k and tuition-free higher education for all qualified students in state universities. The past two decades have witnessed the increasing involvement of corporations in education in terms of supplementing public spending in exchange for school-based Building a Progressive Agenda for Public Schools - Living in Dialogue: