Thursday, August 4, 2011

Of Democratic Education

In a recent email communication, James Merriman of the New York City Charter School Center asked me what I would do about "the truly larger issue of locking poor kids into [fewer] choices than rich kids have", and today I've been reading about the nefarious conspiracy of the American Federation of Teachers to deny African American families in Connecticut the right to benefit from proposed parent empowerment legislation colloquially known as the "parent trigger" (see my post of 20 July for what this is). In the one case, marginalized parents are usually denied the right to choose a preferred form of education for their children; on the other, marginalized parents are locked out of meaningful school governance. Putting these two together, we arrive at the question, "What role (if any) are marginalized parents to have in our envisioned reformed educational system?"

In my mind, the concept of democratic education is joined to three other interlocking concepts: those of legal supremacy, federalism, and devolution. While the laws and decisions of our central government are supreme (the Civil War settled that), we are a federal nation, and, like other nations with highly admirable education systems such as Canada and Switzerland, we have long devolved educational decision-making to lower administrative levels. In democratic education, as much power as is practically possible is devolved down to the level of the learners themselves, who direct their own educational decision-making as much as possible.

Several consequences flow from this logic: (1) all parents, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, have equal rights under the law (I don't favor repeal of the 14th Amendment, and believe that AFT's PowerPoint presentation should be studied by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights); (2) all parents, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, should enjoy rights to education similar to those enjoyed by families in the Netherlands, as enshrined in that country's Article 23 of its constitution, where (a) all parents are free to choose schools for their children and (b) the state must equally fund all schools that parents choose; (3) all parents, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, should have the opportunity to participate in their local school's governance through election to their school's administrative board, which each school must have according to the school charter laws in New Zealand

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