I had fully intended to follow up on my last entry about the re-envisioning of Ontario’s public school system with some principles that I thought could ground some new/old conversations around the schools that we really want and, arguably, need. But those intentions were disrupted very early in the week by a conversation that the CBC’s Matt Galloway had with a parent who had decided to move her child from the public to the private school system. Dismayed and frustrated by what wasn’t happening in her home school, the parent felt that abandoning the public system would offer her more satisfaction, and her child a better education.
Perhaps without realizing it, Matt and the unidentified parent hit on a much more fundamental question. I’ve spent a good deal of time over the past few years asking myself (and others), “What is public education for?”. What was being discussed in the CBC conversation, however, could really be boiled down to, “Who is public education for?”
More precisely, when talking about our visions for public education, how do we resolve the tension that exists between the benefits that a quality education can bring to the individual, and the public good that can be derived from strong and healthy schools? Do the scales tip in favour of one over the other, or should we be aiming to strike a perfect balance between the two?
From my vantage point it appears that, increasingly, a good deal of our energy is being invested in schooling as a type of commodity—one that is focused on the long-and short-term answers to “What’s in it for me?”, as opposed to “What’s in it for us?”
There’s a chance that my take on this may appear to be somewhat naïve, or even a little self-righteous. And I’m not suggesting that we abandon our assurance of quality individual education; but I can’t help but sense that, in our insistence that individual test scores, grad rates and readiness for post secondary are all suitable proxies for achievement and, ultimately, success, we’re sidelining a huge part of what a quality public education could be.
There is an us implied in the concept of public, but I fear that this is being overshadowed, if not totally removed from the assumptions we make and the expectations we have for our public schools. To be sure, we talk in our schools about global responsibility, community and caring for each other. But, each time I hear about another flight from the public system, I wonder how much a part of our DNA the sense of us and we actually is.
Before I go on by building this in to my own vision for our schools, I’ll throw it over to you.
Is this your experience, or am I misreading the situation? If any of this resonates, how can our redesign of schools for what remains of the 21st century include a concept of excellence which values ongoing attention to a deeper exploration of public? How is your local school committed to striking a balance between the u and the i in the word public?