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Vouchers, School Choice and the Public's Interest Essay

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School Choice and the Public's Interest

 

Recent trends toward privatizing schools and relieving them of state requirements wrongly imply that schools should mirror the desires of parents and ignore the public's interest in having citizens educated for democracy.

 

Rob Reich, who recently earned his doctorate in philosophy of education at Stanford, is writing a book on school vouchers, charter schools and home schooling. Reich stated his view that the nation is slipping too far into deregulated schooling. "The guiding idea behind privatization, whether it is vouchers, charter schools or home schooling, is that parents should be the sole decision-making agents about the kind of education their children receive. But this eviscerates the public or civic purposes of schooling."

 

Public schooling itself is not the goal, he said, and public schools don't necessarily do better than private schools in educating children to meet the state's interests, which he defined as preparing children for both workforce and democratic participation. Those who joined in the discussion pushed Reich to specify the content of an education for democratic participation. "Some would say reading and writing is enough," he responded. "Personally, I would go a few steps further to say that students should learn to come into dialogue with others on a public stage." Voluntary national standards for civic education suggest "a combination of making sure students know the history and shape of the structure of government, and how to influence public deliberation and policy," he said. Others suggest experience-oriented programs, often called service learning. "My model has been the Socratic dialogue, where the teacher is a leader and p...


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...ploded among white, middle-class, religious families who want more control over the values their children are exposed to or who fear for their children's safety, Reich said. "I'm convinced that further privatization is inevitable," he added. Supporters have framed the argument for it as "a civil rights issue or a matter of social justice." he said. "People say President Clinton sent his daughter to private school. If we are serious about social justice, we should give all parents the same choice that wealthy parents have."

How would he change the situation? Reich was asked. "I can imagine a variety of institutional arrangements but where private schools are still subject to state oversight," he said. "Perhaps public dollars could flow to them if the curriculum met the state's interests. A democracy has needs, but that doesn't mean public schools have to meet them."


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