The Importance of Public Education

“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” So said Aristotle and likewise a number of others such as  St. Francis Xavier to whom the quotation is sometimes attributed. Even Adolf Hitler took credit for this quotation and recently an American billionaire speaking about the importance of early childhood education. Aristotle lives as his thoughts are being cribbed more than 2000 years later. To paraphrase another famous quote – a great phrase has a thousand authors and that’s because Aristotle’s statement rings true to this day, the proof of this pudding is the eagerness to destroy and privatize public education especially as seen in billionaires from Rupert Murdoch to Bill Gates, and right-wing politicians.

  It is inarguable that to be fully functioning responsible members of any society children must be properly educated, a process that is thousands of years old because it is indisputably vital to the community interest. Consequently, in our times, we must beware of the politicization of the public discourse aimed at disparaging public schools and public school educators.  How can authentic education happen when it is reduced to ingestion, regurgitation, and controlled performance not unlike the training of seals? We must ask how can an educative process take place when children’s noses are pressed against computer screens informing only themselves in a controlled, circumscribed, and contrived personal world and not always in a classroom with other children? We must also ask: What is the purpose of this recent interest in public education by people and groups that have no training and no expertise in the field? Can it be simply that Rupert Murdoch sees K through 12 education as a “$500 billion sector in the US alone” that is his for the taking with the help of ambitious politicians? Yes, it could be about money but profit is neither a humane nor a socially constructive motive. I believe childhood education must be more than that; a civil society depends on it.

If you wanted to control any society where would you start? With the health and welfare of the general public perhaps? Or maybe civil courts where well-paid insurance company lawyers beat back attempts to hold culpable parties responsible? How about ubiquitous universal surveillance of your activities, phone calls, and internet browsing? Controlling the public narrative is especially effective and important because so many people don’t look beyond what they see and hear in the media or the circumstances of their own lives; they often don’t look beyond information that confirms their beliefs or feeds their fears.

If you are in it for the long game wouldn’t public education be the best place to start your agenda? And what would the “long game” be about? I believe the long game is about social control.  Historically, while propaganda has been one of the central tactics used to create and maintain social control so too has childhood education. An often used tactic today is funding charter schools and taking money from traditional public schools. Couple this with a continual disparagement of public school educators who work long hours with pay that falls far short of their education and dedication who are replaced in many of the new schools with cheaper to hire staff who in many cases are not trained as teachers. In some states educational management organizations (EMOs) are running 30% of all charter schools and of those 16% are for-profit operations. There are also “virtual” charter schools where instruction is provided at home over the internet further distancing children from the socializing aspects of public schools.

The foundational conception of public education is neither capitalism or socialism, it is not about Republicans or Democrats, and it has never been, before now, about profit. Public education has always been about the development of each child as an individual to the fullest extent of their abilities for the ultimate benefit of society. Public schools are about Community, about Democracy, about civility. The antithesis of self-centeredness is Community and Community means all of us working together, learning and teaching, not grasping whatever can be at whatever cost to others, oblivious to an inclusive  social contract. Public education is where children learn and practice these values.

The proper focus of authentic education is not ingestion and disgorgement of information like trained seals clapping their flippers on command but a process of development that leads to critical thinking and life-long learning skills. Information can readily be absorbed when that information is relevant to human purpose and life as it is lived. I have been writing about this question for a long time, I taught about it for several years at one of the world’s great universities and it worries me to see politicians and non-educators controlling children’s lives as a form of self-promotion, as profit centers. It is well worth repeating now: it is what Aristotle was telling us so many centuries ago.

   

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5 Responses to “The Importance of Public Education”


  1. 1 FranR October 11, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    “The proper focus of authentic education is … a process of development that leads to critical thinking and life-long learning skills.” That is true! … but what does that have to do with “Public Education”? And why is it that we must entrust this development only to “licensed educators” … like Aristotle and St Francis Xavier!

    And if we posit that “{p}ublic schools are about community, about democracy, about civility” then are we not engaged in “the long game … about social control”?

    I think the current state of education exhibits that we are not served so well by teaching information “relevant to human purpose and life as it is lived” … but rather by teaching what is True, Authentic, Objective … and that we have an obligation to mold our lives to those items … like what Aristotle and St Francis Xavier would recognize.

    • 2 Emanuele Corso, PhD October 26, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      I believe if what is being taught is not “relevant to human purpose and life as it is lived” it is neither True, Authentic, nor Objective. I am certain both Aristotle and St Francis Xavier would agree as would a great many other philosophers.

  2. 3 Carol Sharp September 29, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    Emanuele,

    I realize you are passionate about public education and you stated this in your writings, and, I never agreed with you more. I am a product of private education for ten years. When I finally had the option to transfer to public education, I will tell you that it was a real culture shock. Playing catch up was not easy and I really didn’t do it.

    When I taught 3rd & 4th grade in a Catholic school, I quit after a year when I realized my students were being cheated. I convinced my parents to transfer my sister and brother, who were ten years younger, to transfer them to a public school. They too were behind, but being in first and second grade, the transition was much easier for them.

    Your writing is brilliant.

    Just an old friend,

    Carol

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  3. 4 Arthur Alpert September 28, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    This is so well said, Emanuele, that I am forwarding it to friends also worried by “politicians and non-educators controlling children’s lives as a form of self-promotion, as profit centers.” Thank you for writing it.
    Arthur Alpert


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