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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/17/13

Fighting For Our Classrooms, and For the Human Beings Inside Them

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A lot of well-intentioned people get taken in by cynical agendas like this, especially when the other side isn't being heard. That's where the "Declaration" comes in. It says that "Education is a public good." A public good is something that is, or should be, available to all without exception, like clean air, drinkable water, and the national defense.

The Declaration also says education funding should be "equitable and sufficient." No child should be deprived of educational opportunity because of race or income. The map shown below reveals how badly we're breaking that promise and targeting budget cuts toward minority schools. The Declaration points a finger at this shameful outcome and says that minority children, like all other children, deserve an opportunity to learn.

The Declaration also says that "National responsibilities should complement local control," which I would interpret as follows: Every state or county manages its schools. But as the nation learned in Birmingham and Little Rock, our civil rights are universal.

And the opportunity to learn is a civil right.

Standards, Not Standardized

The Declaration doesn't reject the idea of standards per se.  But it does say, rightly, that they should be "diagnostic assessments that go beyond test-driven mandates and help teachers strengthen the classroom experience for each student."

Instead, for 30 years we've been moving our educational system toward a goal of absolute standardization, a production-line process in which graduating students are uniform and interchangeable "outputs" to be produced at the lowest possible cost -- each equipped with the optimum utility value for the corporations that will employ increasingly few of them.

But that's not what education is for. Not in a free and democratic society.

The Declaration also observes that "an education agenda that imposes top-down standards and punitive high-stakes testing while ignoring the supports students need to thrive and achieve ... (is) turning public schools into uncreative, joyless institutions."

Joyless lives are for kids in Dickens novels or systematized Orwellian dystopias. They shouldn't be the fate of today's American children.

Beating the System

The corporate System -- and it is a system -- doesn't want to produce any more student "outputs" than it needs, or any who won't be useful corporate tools. And it's perfectly fine for the System if poor and minority kids don't get a decent education. The System didn't need their parents and it doesn't need them either.

Music programs? The System doesn't need violin-playing ghetto kids or schoolgirls who'd rather play the drums than twirl a baton. Arts programs? Our corporate walls are already lined with Kandinskys and Klees, thank you very much.

But our nation's children aren't "outputs." They're human beings. "Education is not the filling of a pail," said William Butler Yeats, "but the lighting of a fire."

We're told that our children are citizens of a great, powerful, and democratic nation. Their education must be equal to those claims. They should be prepared to assume the full rights and duties of citizenship, prepared to determine their society's fate. The System may not want that kind of education for our children. But we  do. That's why we have a democracy.

In the face of a heartless system, it's time to reaffirm a basic human value: Education is every child's birthright, and it should honor the humanity which every child possesses.

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Host of 'The Breakdown,' Writer, and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

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