There was a phrase from last week’s CTF President’s Forum in Halifax that emerged on the first day and quickly became part of the accepted discourse of the assembly. The first person to use it, if memory serves me correctly, was People for Education’s Annie Kidder. The last time it was used was during the final remarks by discussant Charles Ungerleider who used it as part of his call to action for the gathered delegates:
If we want to win the hearts and minds of the public, we have to…
The first time it was used, I didn’t think much of it, assuming that it was said inserted for effect. The second time, I squirmed a little. The third and fourth time, I began to wonder whether folks realized what they were affirming by allowing it to go unchallenged.
Not only is the idea of winning hearts and minds most often associated with the idea of persuading a subjugated people that what is being done to them is somehow positive, but it strikes me as more than a little disconcerting that the public needs to be brought onside—won over—when it comes to what is happening in public education. Have we become so cut off from the democratic principles and ideals that are the core of this enterprise that the very people that dedicate their lives to serving the system have to somehow use approaches and tactics normally reserved for military strategists?
I don’t disagree that educators at all levels of the system would do well to examine the way that we communicate our hopes and dreams for our public schools, but the assumptions that ground the idea of needing to win hearts and minds seems a little odd, if not disturbing.
Public Education is the privilege and responsibility of us all. It should be built and developed on principles that accurately reflect a democratically discerned (and discernable) set of beliefs and values. If this is true, then the hearts and minds of the public will already be with us, because they are us!
Has the political appropriation of the public agenda around education caused us to lose sight of the importance of public conversation and dialogue around this fundamentally “public” institution?