In early May 2017, the forty-fifth president of the United States stopped by and cheered a White House event where Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had gathered a group of local children and parents. Her goal was to persuade Congress to continue funding a program that uses public dollars to pay private school tuition for schoolchildren in the nation’s capital. It was a call for support that reflected well the broad suite of education reforms favored by the new administration—public financing of private alternatives to public schools, including corporate-run charter schools, publicly subsidized homeschooling, and voucher plans much like the DC-based one at the center of the day’s event.
Meanwhile, halfway across the country in Chicago, Illinois, a coalition of grassroots organizations from twenty-four cities, the Journey for Justice (J4J) Alliance, was advocating for a very different approach to securing high-quality education for the nation’s most vulnerable children. In fact, in J4J’s view, choice and privatization are a big part of the problem facing public education, rather than viable solutions for improving it. J4J’s director, Jitu Brown, who has worked for years as an organizer and educator in the Kenwood Oakland neighborhood of Chicago, laid out J4J’s perspective in a Chicago Reporter opinion piece, published just a few days later and entitled, “School Choice Is a Scam in Segregated Neighborhoods.”
“We feel the same urgency to transform struggling schools,” Brown wrote about the new administration’s proposals. “But we understand that imposing failed, top-down corporate education interventions on communities of color is merely the status quo, amplified.” Drawing from the lived experience of thousands of residents of low-income communities of color, J4J’s campaign—#WeChoose: Educational Equity, Not the Illusion of School Choice
—argues that public schools “are being killed by an alliance of misguided, paternalistic ‘reformers,’ education profiteers, and those who seek to dismantle the institution of public education.”1
What J4J wants for children in Kenwood Oakland and communities like it across the country is not choice and competition (or the unevenness and instability they assure), but what families in more affluent communities can simply count on: well-resourced, stable, sustainable, government-supported, community
In short, public education today is caught in the crosshairs of a deep cultural divide. It’s a divide that will influence the careers of new teachers for many years to come. Indeed, teachers’ work is always shaped, interpreted, inspired, and constrained by the particularities of its historical moment. And while this moment is a particular one, this country has always had its deep disagreements about education. Consider, for example, the blatant evil of lawful segregation that kept our country’s children separated by race, the many who battled for and against its de jure dismantling, and the many who are battling for and against its de facto realization still.
This book provides foundational knowledge that explains why public schools are what they are today, and why public education is an institution worth saving and improving, worth fighting for, and worth choosing as a career. In the first section, we introduce the broader demographic,
historical, philosophical, and political context. We apply a critical approach meant to provide readers with new insights and useful tools that will support them to make positive contributions to contemporary public schooling.
, “The U.S. Schooling Dilemma: Diversity, Inequity, and Democratic Values,” looks at who contemporary U.S. students are and what basic conditions they encounter in their lives, both inside and outside school. We pay attention to the structural inequities and opportunity gaps that students experience in the educational system.
, “History and Culture: How Expanding Expectations and Powerful Ideologies Shape Schooling in the United States,” presents an overview of important events in the history of schooling in the United States. The chapter sketches out how expectations for schools have increased over the past 200-plus years. It also discusses two powerful and pervasive ideologies—meritocracy and racial superiority—that have shaped and continue to shape schooling in this country.
, “Politics and Philosophy: The Struggle Over the School Curriculum,” explores how people in Western societies think about knowledge and schooling. We review traditional and progressive educational philosophies and the role they have played in struggles over what schools should teach, how they should teach it, and to whom. These philosophies have consequences—explored throughout the book—that show up in every aspect of public education, including school policies, curriculum, teacher preparation, relationships between students and teachers, and so on.
, “Policy and Law: Rules That Schools Live By,” unpacks how local, state, and federal governments, including the courts, translate our ever-growing expectations for public education into education policy and law. This incredibly complex process requires policymakers and judges to juggle the competing social, historical, philosophical, and political forces described in Chapters 1
. The chapter also identifies how Americans’ idealization of economic enterprise exerts a huge influence in the education policymaking process.
introduces big, historical ideas at the heart of American schooling—ideas like diversity, equity, and democracy, as well as meritocracy, racial superiority, and privilege. We don’t leave these ideas behind when we move on to Part II
. There, our attention to the theory and practice of learning and teaching recalls the tension over the mission and purpose of public schools. Looking at the usual educational divisions such as subject matter, instruction, assessment, classroom management, and so forth, we make the case that equity is essential, in theory and
in practice—that a social justice perspective does not compromise, but rather drives teachers and schools toward
attends to the teaching profession more broadly; in doing so, however, it profiles specific teachers who describe their philosophies and how they put them into practice as professionals. These profiles give readers a sense of the challenges and inspirations that teachers find in their profession. They also give readers a sense of what’s possible—in other words, how real teachers are drawing on and deepening their foundational knowledge about U.S. schooling (Part I
) and their knowledge of teaching and learning (Part II
) as they navigate conditions in the present, work to transform educational inequities, and
strive to make schools and the teaching profession what socially just, democratic principles suggest they can and should be.
What does it mean to be a socially just teacher in a socially unjust world? What do all students deserve?
I grew up in a household that discussed these questions. My father, an accountant, and my mother, a professional educator, always led me to believe that education could solve just about any problem in the world. At mealtimes we often talked about the state of education, the gross inequities my mother observed between urban and suburban schools, and the reform efforts. I knew that someday I wanted to be a teacher.…
Schooling in our society, though inherently democratic, needs to direct students toward critical consciousness—of their potential, of their freedom, of ongoing injustices, and of the obligation to ensure our democracy and improve upon it for future generations.
High school social studies
Teacher Judy Smith grapples every day with one of the most challenging teaching dilemmas of our time: making good on the promise of equal education in a society that is profoundly unequal. Teachers like Judy and the others you’ll meet in this book recognize the relationship between the nation’s diversity and its inequity; they understand the history of this relationship and know why schooling inequalities persist. They have knowledge, skills, and a sense of possibility that equip them to be agents for educational equity as they support students’ social and emotional development, intellectual curiosity, and academic competence. They teach to change the world.
This chapter focuses on inequities that shape students’ lives. It provides a numerical breakdown that describes today’s students and the relationship between students’ diverse characteristics and their educational experiences and outcomes. Most people in the United States, and certainly all teachers, have heard about the nation’s racial and economic achievement gaps. Those gaps reflect equally important opportunity gaps. As we show in what follows, persistent patterns of unequal conditions, resources, and opportunities in and outside of school underlie the gaps, or disparities, in students’ achievement.
Educators like Judy Smith don’t just want to understand these inequities; they also want to help remedy them. This activist goal is encompassed in teacher educator and critical scholar Gloria Ladson-Billings’s idea of an education debt. “Debt” asks us to understand that a high-quality, equitable education is not something that youth must earn or pro...