We presuppose a lot when we talk about public education. To inform, to educate, and to pay for the education itself by means of taxation is the usual picture that we conjure up. In fact, those are some of the main purposes imbued into our public educational system. The problem is that these purposes are never totally fulfilled. Rather, they are only realized insofar as their purposes serve those of public opinion and the upper class, by which I mean those in the highest tax brackets. The system is loaded with exceptions to the rule and many examples may be found in what we are taught is not what we should exercise. We are educated to think critically of others, except for our teachers, administrators, and curricula. We are even fed the lie of fair and equal when our schools are anything but. All things considered, it’s amazing that this system still stands despite these numerous contradictions.
Speaking of which, it might be prudent of us to look at the very best of places to start, that being the very heart of the ideology itself. Contemplate these words for a moment: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…” (U.S. Constitution: Amendment I) Here lies the heart and mother of oddities and pietisms. We were taught this in school. We might have even done a class project in which we divided all of these amendments up among the class and thereafter made some sort of presentation, but we have enshrined these words and have left them void of exercise.
Speech is, furthermore, more than just words. Speech is the expression of ideas which can be either verbal or nonverbal. “Fuck you!” and the “birdie” are both one and the same. Yet, because these are offensive to the majority, the minority must adhere to the other’s standards and relinquish their right to express themselves freely. So, from day one, we are taught in our schools to dance to the song of the ruling class and accept everything that is acknowledged by them as, “normal”, while the rest is considered radical, dangerous, or wrong.
Think about it though. What do we really learn in school if it’s not to exercise our freedoms? That can be surmised by: be on time; raise your hand when you want to speak; refrain from using bad language; beepers, cell phones, hats, baggy clothing and so much more isn’t allowed because it is “gang related”. If we’re taught anything in school it is to accept what we are told despite the contradictions presented in what we are taught. The land of the free indeed!
It seems to me that public education teaches the student how to function in a society of rank and file, and certainly not to think critically of their teachers, school administrators, or curricula. The problems with all of these are that some teachers are poorly trained, administrators are more concerned with attendance and adherence to school policy than anything else, and that the information being taught sometimes isn’t true or accurate.
It’s kinda funny to think of some of our books as inaccurate, but even telling half a truth would be a fallacy in it of itself. Today’s historical textbooks, unfortunately, do no service to the actual event, unless of course this part of history conforms to socially acceptable opinions of history. A prime example of this is Helen Keller. Most people know of her, a girl who was born blind and deaf and learned to read and write with the help of her teacher Anne Sullivan. Some can even recall the scene depicted in some books and movies where she puts two and two together and realizes that the symbol for “water” was connected to the water being held in her hand. All of the common motifs valued by western society are represented here; overcoming difficulties, struggle, and perseverance.
More surprising than what Helen Keller did is what she’s not famous for, most notable among these:
…that Helen Keller was a radical socialist. She joined the Socialist party of Massachusetts in 1909…After the Russian Revolution, she sang the praises of the new communist nation…Through research she learned that blindness was not distributed randomly throughout the population but was concentrated in the lower class…[furthermore] Keller’s research was not just book learning: “I have visited sweatshops, factories, crowded slums. If I could not see it, I could smell it.” (Loewen 21-22)
It would be rhetorical of me to ask you why we don’t know this of Helen Keller when it is very plain to see that her accomplishments, though great and many, do not fall in line with traditional “free societal” values, specifically, democracy. Perhaps this is why we pay her lip service but discredit her life’s work by omitting it.
The interesting thing about omitting facts which aren’t supportive of “free society” ideologies is that those are the only consistencies between differing school districts in the U.S. The provocative thing about which is that “unlike virtually every other industrialized country, the United States has no national curriculum and no agency that services the development of classroom materials. Each of the nation’s 15,367 school districts is a kingdom unto itself…with the power to decide what its students will be taught.” (Kantrowitz and Wingert 59) This means that twin girls going to different schools in different school districts learn from two different curricula.
The inequalities only increase from here. Suppose those two girls attended two different school districts where the property values were also different. This now means that not only are they learning from two different curricula but that one of these curricula is better funded than the other. This is because our American “schools receive funds from three governmental sources – about 10 percent from the federal government, and depending on the allocation within each state, about 40 percent from the state, and 50 percent from property taxes in each district within the state.” (Eitzen and Zinn 472) The long and short of which is that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. By funding schools through property taxes we ensure that the price of an education between a rich neighborhood and a poor one is as different as night and day. “In New York City, per pupil spending of $10,500 is half the $21,000 per student in the Long Island suburb of Manhasset.” (Kozol 23-24) Therefore, children attending nice schools in affluent neighborhoods have better chances of going to expensive universities. Not only that, but they are also the only ones who have parents which can afford such schools.
So, unless I’m part of the affluent rich upper white class, I honestly can’t see why we should have public schooling at all. Nor can I see that these purposes fulfill their aims. The schools don’t allow the students to criticize anything, except for what is presented to them formally in a class. The schools don’t teach the whole truth except for when it serves their traditional free societal values and perspectives. The schools are largely supported by property taxes which further ensure the lines of stratification are not crossed. The schools just don’t work. Albeit that this is simply my opinion, if the purposes of public education are to inform without prejudice, educate without bias, and be paid for with tax dollars fairly, then they only do half the job, and a half assed job in any school only ensures an “F”.