Let me establish something right off the top.
I don’t know State Representative Andrew Brenner of Ohio. I’ve never met the man. I don’t even live in his state. I have nothing against him, personally. He seems like a nice guy, as much as an internet personality is reflective of a real person. Our “relationship” consists of two articles he wrote on education and a twitter feed. He was kind enough to follow me, I reciprocated. I’m just an education nerd finishing up a dual master’s degree here in Texas who is discovering a passion for education reform and education policy.
So when I say that Rep. Brenner “got it wrong” it really boils down to my disagreement with his viewpoint on education and education reform, and recognizing that his views represent other views. I’ve given two reasons why I disagree with him in my first and second posts. Here’s the third, and it’s a philosophical one (but don’t check out on me now, I can keep this easy).
A simple question: in a democracy that requires all students to go to school until a certain age, are those students entitled to a free public education, or a free private education?
Advocates of the school privatization model for education reform are basically arguing that students (and their parents) should “shop” for the best education for their money just like any other product or service. Once they find what they like, they should pay into that particular program and assume that the program will produce an outcome suitable for the student to become a productive and informed citizen. They often point to higher education as an example of how this model can work successfully. Market forces will allow the best educational programs to succeed and the worst to fail.
Here’s the problem with higher education as your standard: higher education assumes (sometimes wrongly) a certain baseline knowledge in its students. Higher education is based on the premise (again, currently wrongly) that the students are already trained as a productive citizen capable of contributing to the common good and public interest. Higher education is supplementary to the education a citizen receives, it is not required. I think that, in education, it against the best interests of the public to allow the weight and influence of corporate dollars to operate as the sole voice and engine for deciding what kids learn, and I think if you privatize education, that’s exactly what will happen.
This brings us back to the fundamental question: do we honestly believe that we can privately decide what will produce the best citizen, or is that a public conversation?
I think that’s a public conversation, guided by federal standards, enforced by the state, and implemented by counties (or cities). I don’t want Dell, Microsoft, or Citi solely setting the agenda for what my child should or should not know. I’m not against school choice. I’m not against competition. I am against oligarchy and plutocracy in a democracy. That thinking runs counter to the whole democratic experiment. I’m concerned that the school choice model will push us further in that direction. School privatization doesn’t solve the real problem(s) in public education and introduces another aggravating factor.
Thank you, Rep. Brenner, for sharing your ideas in a public forum. Thank you for your service in a public office. I fervently hope that as you continue to interact in the public square regarding that you would incorporate ideas from outside of your typical political viewpoint.