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In Vermont, a Brave Call for Public Education

By Anthony Cody — November 03, 2013 2 min read
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I visited the great state of Vermont last week, and traveled through its rugged mountains. Today I read an editorial in a Vermont newspaper that reminds us why that state is a bastion of independence and democracy.

The editorial in the Valley News reviews the career and viewpoint of Diane Ravitch, and reaches this conclusion:

But of all the points Ravitch makes, we find most compelling her assertion that corporate money and power threaten the integrity and possibly the very existence of public education. Public schools uphold collective values, break down racial and religious barriers, and are integral to the concept of citizenship. Without them, democracy would be jeopardized. Local communities, not hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs, must remain financially and socially invested in public education. That's a back-to-basics lesson not to be forgotten.

What is remarkable about this is not the sentiment expressed. This is a mainstream point of view - not some radical concept. If you watch great American films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, you find the same ideals. Government is supposed to be a force against corruption and control by private interests. It is a mark of how far we have come that only in Vermont does one see such a viewpoint expressed on a newspaper’s editorial page.

In Los Angeles last week, the largest newspaper west of the Mississippi called for an extension of the contract of John Deasy, who has distinguished himself by making the most expensive technology purchase ever - more than a billion dollars and counting, for iPads for every student in the district. Their editorial makes clear their disdain for democratic processes when they write:

...Deasy is now blocked by blather and bad feeling at almost every turn. He came to the district to get things done, and he has used virtually every means at his disposal to do so, sometimes impatiently, sometimes arrogantly -- but generally with the interests of students at heart. The board majority has not yet realized this important truth: Deasy's weaknesses -- that same impulsiveness and stubbornness that can create problems when employed in the wrong situations -- are also his great strengths.

It is clear they want the school board to shut up and do what Deasy wants. But that is not why people voted for these board members.

Across the country, far too few newspapers and media outlets exercise the sort of independence we see in Vermont. Most are like the Los Angeles Times, owned by billionaires who do not often object to the ever-growing concentration of wealth and political power we see.

Elsewhere, in the absence of newspapers willing to stand up to monied interests, we have bloggers. In New Jersey this weekend, there was a case in point. The regular newpaper reported that Governor Chris Christie was “mobbed by Rutgers fans.”

One had to visit blogs like that of Jersey Jazzman to discover a firsthand report of this encounter between Christie and a teacher.

I went to listen to him speak. I stood in the front of the crowd that was standing towards the back. I know he caught sight of me. He stared at me a few times during his speech. I left right as his speech was over to position myself right at the door of the bus. He came out, shaking everyone's hands as he was getting on the bus. I asked him my question, expecting him to ignore me but he suddenly turned and went off. I asked him: "Why do you portray our schools as failure factories?" His reply: "Because they are!" He said: "I am tired of you people. What do you want?"

Newspapers at their best are champions of the underdog. They should be investigating corruption, and demanding transparency. Thanks to the Valley News for their brave editorial. And thanks to bloggers like Jersey Jazzman for telling the stories the regular media too often leaves untold.

Update: The Star-Ledger just became the first mainstream media outlet to report on the Christie incident.

What do you think? How are the media fulfilling their role as watchdogs for the public good?

Continue the dialogue with Anthony on Twitter.

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