The Great Idea: What makes public school education unique, vital, and attractive

There is an old adage, perhaps African in origin, that “it takes an entire village to raise a child”.

Hidden in the adage are a number of important ideas that are vitally important to all the people who live in, and value life in, a civil democratic community.

  1. The entire village has an interest in every child and is responsible for the education of every child.
  2. Every child needs more than one mentor, advocate, or teacher.  As children grow and reveal their interests, attitudes and disinclinations, the community needs to expose them to a number of different tutors.
  3. No child is simply the chattel of her or his parents.  In the event that the parents are ignorant, afraid, or exploitive, very child has an unalienable right to be respected and protected, and the community has a responsibility to know the circumstances of the child and assure the safety of the child.

Civil democratic communities are characterized by accessibility and inclusion, including respect and an appreciation for diversity (rather than an insistence on uniformity).

The core interest that every village has in raising children is that the village wants to draw the child into the life of the village.  It follows that a civil democratic community must introduce children to a model of their own community at an early age and throughout childhood and adolescence.

The education that concerns the entire village must be greater than intellectual familiarity, such as a program of studies and curriculum.  It must include character formation, a thirst for inquiry and a readiness to explore and take risks, an appreciation of justice and beauty, and an understanding of injustice and ugliness.

 The proposition of this site is that public school education has four unique characteristics (not shared by any other form of education).

  1. It is universally accessible, as a matter of conviction, and without pre-condition of any kind, and it seeks to be inclusive.
  2. Inclusion, in the context of the public school system, is both an unalienable right, and an unalienable responsibility.
  3. Inclusion, in the context of the public school system, is not intended to achieve sameness (homogeneity):  it is intended to celebrate uniqueness and the value of diversity.
  4. Public school education exists to be a deliberate, consistent and aspirational model of a civil democratic community, and by nurturing and educating students within such a model it aims to draw students into good citizenship within ‘the public’ that is the foundation of any civil democratic community.

These characteristics, in turn, make public school education unique and vitally important to the long-term well-being of a civil democratic society.  (In other words, public school education is not important because it is mandated by government, or because of compulsory attendance laws, or because it is tax supported.  It is not even important because it educates to a program of studies and an instructional curriculum.  All of these characteristics can be found in other systems of education.)

Ultimately, we compromise civil democratic society if our critique of public school education, and our exploration of its future does not focus on these four characteristics.  Everything else is secondary.

All of this is explored in greater detail across the site.


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  • David King