Education Opinion

Bring Schools Back to the Community

By Deborah Meier — May 12, 2015 2 min read
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Democracy presumes both some minimal equality of resources between voters and/or some form of well-organized balance of power that limits such existing inequalities. (To accomplish this, some “democracies” limit voting rights!) Today we have both unprecedented and well-organized inequalities of financial power and virtually no well-resourced and well-organized opposition. It’s dangerous.

The purpose of corporate governance is profit-making. That can’t be the only self-interest we care about. I’m claiming, Joe, that it’s no coincidence that the wealthy are “driving” the current education strategy, not the many well-intended allies who see some possible virtues in this or that aspect of their agenda.

It’s not easy to imagine how such equality can be accomplished and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever find a foolproof solution. But what we have today is a fairly fast “drift” away from the most minimal levels of balance between organized money and organized people, a balance upon which modern democracy rests.

The organizations through which “the people” organize themselves to protect their particular shared self-interests are fewer and fewer. The two most obvious places: one’s workplace and one’s neighborhood are becoming more and more irrelevant to democratic decision-making . That’s where I start.

Workplace organizations in the private sector have disappeared under the attack of big money. Public sector unions, last to organize, may be last to disappear. They rested on civil service protections that grew out of once-upon-a-time “good governance” movements. Meanwhile , “neighborhoods” --which once served essential democratic functions and were the basic unit of representation --have been weakened by state, federal, and corporate power, including the disappearance of locally run businesses. Some of these losses were for the good --as in the case of the abuse of “democracy” to thwart the rights of neighbors of color.

How then can we restore the power of those who share a workplace as well as those who share a geographic living place?

While people have the right to opt out of such “communities"--changing jobs or changing where they live--meanwhile they are stuck with considering the common-good (as well as their private self-interests). For one thing: yes, schools should “belong to the community,” precisely because such neighborhoods--or collectivities of neighborhoods--must be strengthened if democracy is to survive. Since I also believe that institutions are best governed by those with the closest “self-interest,” schools need to be organized to privilege the staff, the families. and the students directly involved. Small, self-governing community-based schools, well and equally funded by the state and federal government seem wisest to me at this time in our history.

Meanwhile, we need (1) to revisit the 1954 Brown decision to see how residential housing policies and redistricting school zones can make its promise a possibility and (2) to demand equal public resources that allow all schools to have the smaller class sizes, arts programs, and time-off for professional and family collaboration that the wealthiest can afford for their children. Then, and only then, does “accountability” to anyone but one’s own constituency seem fair.


P.S. In retrospect, reformers were unwise to take money from anyone who didn’t give it to them on their own terms--without promised results.

The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.