Friday Reading List: Moral Movements and Public Schooling as a Common Good

William Barber, whose "Moral Mondays" movement has built a "fusion coalition" of voters across race and class in North Carolina, wants Americans to understand the historical context of our current political moment:

While we do, indeed, face a dire situation, this is not new ... And we must be clear: every stride toward freedom in U.S. history has been met with this same backlash. We faced it during Reconstruction, in the shadow of slavery and amid the wreckage of the Civil War. African Americans joined hands with whites in the North and in the South who were willing to see one another as allies. Within four years after the end of the Civil War, white and black alliances controlled every state house in the South. Together, they elected new leaders. Almost all of the southern legislatures were controlled by either a predominantly black alliance or a strong interracial fusion coalition. They hammered out new constitutions from a deeply moral perspective.

Barber explains how, after each moment of extraordinary racial progress in this country, we have experienced a significant backlash. Through understanding that history, Barber provides a template for thinking about opposition in the Trump era, which includes local coalition building and the prioritization of messages that emphasize values-based morality.

In a similar spirit, United States Secretary of Education John King gave a speech this week, wherein he discussed the zigs and zags of progress in American public education:

The history of public education in America also is a stutter-step toward ambitiousness, inclusiveness, equity and excellence. But, make no mistake; education has always been central to our progress. Education gave Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton the tools and the vision to transform a colonial outpost into a great and powerful nation that inspires people across the globe. It allowed William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass to challenge the institution of slavery. Education inspired Susan B. Anthony to demand the right of women to help shape our democracy with their votes. And it was education that helped Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis find the words and the bravery to inspire a generation to march toward a brighter and more equal future. But the work of "forming a more perfect union" continues, as it ever has and always must. We must continue to press on, firm in the knowledge that when we pull others up, they do not pull us down. When the light of opportunity shines on those who lack it, it does not dim for those already in its glow.

Situating education at the center of this country's ongoing project in democracy seems critical right now. It's useful to contrast King's vision with that of his successor, Betsy DeVos. Rebecca Mead, writing in The New Yorker, looks at DeVos's particular brand of education ideology, and how that ideology glosses over the notion of education as a public good:

Missing in the ideological embrace of choice for choice’s sake is any suggestion of the public school as a public good—as a centering locus for a community and as a shared pillar of the commonweal, in which all citizens have an investment. If, in recent years, a principal focus of federal educational policy has been upon academic standards in public education—how to measure success, and what to do with the results—DeVos’s nomination suggests that in a Trump Administration the more fundamental premises that underlie our institutions of public education will be brought into question. 

I've been beating a similar drum. If choice is one among many mechanisms used to achieve equity and excellence in education, that's a completely different idea than "choice for choice's sake," wherein choice is an end unto itself. It's important not to be fooled by talking points about school vouchers. I often hear voucher enthusiasts defend unaccountable voucher schemes, under the guise that vouchers "give poor parents the same choice that rich parents have." Excuse my language, but that's bullshit. The average school voucher in this country is worth about $5000, which does almost nothing to give poor families "the same options that rich families have." That's less than half the price tag of the AVERAGE private school, whereas rich families often spend more than $40,000 per year their particular brand of private schooling. Heck, the average cost of running a public school is almost $20,000 per student per year. Saying that "vouchers give poor families the same option that rich families have," is a little like saying, "Oh, you think this steak looks good? Here's a coupon for Burger King."

Finally, Joy-Ann Reid, writing at The Daily Beast, wonders when working class voters will realize they got played:

To review, Trump used his Twitter feed to credit himself for saving 1,100 jobs at Indiana furnace and air conditioning manufacturer Carrier. In fact, it was still-governor Mike Pence, Trump’s soon-to-be vice president, who cut the deal to hand over $7 million in state tax abatements to Carrier in exchange for delaying the movement of 770 jobs to the company’s new plant in Monterrey, Mexico. That move, over the next three years, and the shutdown of the Indianapolis plant, is still planned. Another 300 white collar jobs Trump claimed credit for, meaning researchers and administrators, not steel workers, were not being moved to Mexico in the first place. And an additional 600 jobs at that plant, plus 700 at a plant in nearby Huntington, Indiana, plus 350 more at a ball bearings factory owned by Rexnord Corp., are still being shipped south of the border ... For all you know, Carrier only agreed to delay moving those 770 jobs until Christmas, to get the good press. And unlike President Obama’s deal to save literally millions of auto industry jobs in 2009, there’s no agreement for Carrier to pay taxpayers back with interest.

If only facts seemed as important today as they were at the beginning of 2016. Have a great weekend!