Don’t lose sight of why we have public schools

Marj Passman:

The need to succeed at teaching children is at the basic core of everything we do in Madison schools.
So why did the very society that depends on us to educate their most precious beings, their children, come to be so apprehensive about us? How did this happen? When did our state Legislature and many of our fellow citizens decide that an increase and/or a change in public financing of education was not in their interest?
Perhaps we all need to calm down and ask ourselves the very basic question of why we have public schools. The following tenets are a good start:
1. To provide universal access to free education.
2. To guarantee equal opportunities for all children.
3. To unify a diverse population.
4. To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society.
5. To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient.
6. To improve social conditions.
7. To pass knowledge from one generation to the next.
8. To share the accumulated wisdom of the ages.
9. To instill in our young people a love for a lifetime of learning.
10. To bring a richness and depth to life.
Many Americans have either forgotten, disregard, or no longer view public schools as needed to achieve the above. Some, not all, view the public schools in a much more narrow and self-indulgent way — “What are the public schools going to do for me and my child?” — and do not look at what the schools so richly provide for everyone in a democratic society.

There are many reasons that public education institutions face credibility challenges, including:

Having said that, there are certainly some remarkable people teaching our children, in many cases resisting curriculum reduction schemes and going the extra mile. In my view, our vital public school climate would be far richer and, overall, more effective with less bureaucracy, more charters (diffused governance) and a more open collaborative approach with nearby education institutions.
Madison taxpayers have long supported spending policies far above those of many other communities. The current economic situation requires a hard look at all expenditures, particularly those that cannot be seen as effective for the core school mission: educating our children. Reading scores would be a great place to start.
The two Madison School Board seats occupied by Marj Passman and Ed Hughes are up for election in April, 2011. Interested parties should contact the Madison City Clerk’s office for nomination paper deadlines.