The charter movement may have had one great success and that is the election of Donald Trump. His election is probably due to the balkanization of American culture through the charterization and privatization of a great chunk of our educational system over the last twenty years. The result has been the dilution of common values and beliefs that public education imbued in most Americans. Our common culture has been fragmented to the point that large groups of Americans no longer have common values—socially, economically and politically.
It is my contention that it was not only the educational level, but also the type of education people had played a large part in this election. In an analysis of several polls, the average Trump voter has an income of about $70,000. So there goes the idea that it was the alienated working class that put Trump into office because of their loss of good factory jobs. Instead, there were two other key factors. First, the lack of diversity within the community that voted for him, i.e., mostly white and second, the education level of the Trump voter. It is my opinion, there must be an analysis of the type of education many of the Trump voters either have or support. This goes way beyond whether key voting blocks were college educated or not. It is my feeling that the type of education one acquired played a critical role in the vote. If you look at the mostly white communities that voted for Trump in states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, I would bet there is a large presence of Charter or nonpublic religious schools.
In March 2013, in this blog, I wrote in this blog an article “Education and Class Warfare.” Little did I realize that I was predicting what was to come. I wrote, “Horace Mann, Thomas Jefferson, John Dewey and others had a very simple view of public education. To these men, public education in America would be the great equalizer. It would create a common American culture and an educated citizenry that would make decisions that would benefit the whole nation.” With an educated citizenry and common political culture, it was felt people would make informed decisions as to whom to elect. People would learn to differentiate between emotional rhetoric and sound policy decisions.
Unfortunately, the charter and voucher movements over these years have created schools where there is a lack of oversight as to what is being taught. One cannot create a common culture when one is isolated and does not interact with others who are different. How many charters and fundamentalist religious schools in rural areas of Michigan teach about the diversity of different people that make up this nation? How many have anti-bullying programs or teach tolerance toward students who are LBGQT? Instead, we have not only charters, but also sectarian schools run by people with certain religious notions teaching that the earth is 6000 years old, that it does not matter that we will deplete the environment because none of this will matter when the rapture comes, and that a good portion of the population is hell-bent because of their lifestyles. Even if one does not teach such religious notions, the segregated nature of many of these schools, in the end, lead to the same result—intolerance toward others.
In addition, many charters focus so much on the core skills that social studies and civics barely exist. When your focus is on passing an ELA test, one does not learn how to interpret and analyze critically different types of writing. One should be taught to differentiate between propaganda and objectively-based arguments. In addition, when these schools teach social studies, there is no standard curriculum that makes sure students learn to analyze both sides of an argument. For example, we all know that the Koch brothers are trying to create schools that teach a one sided, free market, but really crony capitalistic, economic view of the world. The good teaching of social studies involves students learning both sides of a historical issue and then debate as well as discuss the different points of view. I remember one of my social studies teachers, Mr. Lepler out of John Bowne High School. During each lesson he gave us a handout describing both sides of every issue and we debated the pros and cons of each argument. He would never tell us his opinion and we could not get him to tell us about his politics. Years later, when I became a teacher, I met him at a conference in my old high school. I asked him whether he was a liberal or conservative. His answer was that he was neither—he was a pragmatist. He based all political decisions on two factors—ethics and reason, not emotion.
The plan of future Education Secretary DeVos is to institutionalize nationally a fragmented educational system where millions will lack an enriched education in unregulated charter schools and private religious schools paid for through vouchers. She surely is not basing her decisions are any type of reason. If you described to her every study in the last few years showing that overall, charters are no better than public schools and those that lack regulation are often worse, she is one who would disregard all this research because her plans are ideologically based. She sees nothing wrong with teaching religious concepts in publicly funded charters and holds that public schools are nothing less than a dead end. I do feel she does understand one thing. It is that history shows that when one controls the education of a society, one ends up controlling that society. The people now coming into power want charters to create a less educated citizenry. They want to defund public education so that fewer schools will be able to teach the type of skills where diversity is accepted and people learn to think for themselves. Instead, DeVos and her supporters want schools that will teach students to be docile, submissive and accept the whatever the government says. All of this is the hall mark of an authoritarian society. The people who will now run the Department of Education may talk about school choice, but they want anything but. It is no choice when one takes away limited resources public education and give it to unregulated private entities. It is not choice when the government favors a private system over a pubic system while, at the same time, enact policies meant to destroy the nation’s community-based schools that are truly accountable to the people through democratic processes.
I went to public school in the mid-1960s just as the civil rights movement was just reaching a crescendo. Thus, I remember “brotherhood week” where we learned to understand others no matter their race, color, or creed. I remember making friends with an Italian classmate and ending up at his confirmation and he at my Bar Mitzvah. I made friends with an Afro-American peer who played classical, jazz and gospel music on a piano and who taught me more about our musical heritage than any appreciation class could every teach. However, now I fear that America in now headed in a completely opposite direction. Will there even be an Afro-American History Month or a Woman’s History Month in the schools? Will there be anti-bullying programs in the schools? I don’t know. Without a common culture that teaches the acceptance of diversity not only of people, but ideas, I fear for the future of this nation. There may not be choice for my 10 month grandchildren when they enter school when the only choices that exist will be mostly segregated or online schools teaching test prep or fundamentalist ideas. It has been America’s public education that has been the fabric that has held together this nation based on law, justice and respect. Without such a system, how can our national identity survive?