Is Public Education a “Radical” Idea?

At a recent family picnic, an elderly uncle growled at me for wearing a “radical political” t-shirt. My shirt has the popular internet meme “Every Chicago Public School is My School,” which accurately captured the groundswell of anger at Rahm Emanuel’s closing of 50 neighborhood schools. Every schoolIn fact, when Parents4Teachers spokesperson Erica Clark read out the names of the school at the CPS meeting finalizing this deal (the Board did not; they voted them closed in an omnibus vote that took all of one second) people began shouting “my school” when they heard their school’s name. Very shortly the entire room was shouting “My school!” after every name read.

I’ve been wearing this shirt a lot because it gets such a response, mainly “I like your shirt!” But to my uncle I took the opportunity to say, “It’s a sad day in this country when public education is a ‘radical’ concept, isn’t it Uncle Moe?”

Yesterday Catalyst reported that a $20 million no-bid contract went to an organization with connections to CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett. This comes as no surprise to CPS teacher and parent Timothy Meehan who claims in his SunTimes commentary that CPS is starving schools n order to privatize.

This corporate reform of education is part of the neoliberal viewpoint that says that school systems should be run like businesses. There’s an inherent problem with this view: it collides with a societal view that democratic ideals include a thriving public school system that offers opportunities. As we go to hearings and protests and file lawsuits, we need to keep alive the question of what is meant by democracy and what is really meant by freedom.

Freedom is not throwing public education open to the free market so parents are free to “choose” a charter school; freedom is knowing that your child can walk to school in a safe neighborhood.