ow would you respond if you stumbled across a headline that asked, “How much do farmers markets cost Walmart?” It’s a ridiculous question. It presupposes that the customer belongs to Walmart; that any time the individual chooses to buy cucumbers from a local grower or salsa from an aspiring entrepreneur, he or she is “robbing” the dominant grocer. That’s just absurd. Yet this is the standard frame we use when talking about education. We blithely assume that education is wholly different from any other field.
Consider, for example, a recent headline on the Education Writers Association’s website: “How Much Do Charter Schools Cost Districts?” It’s the same question, and it is just as absurd as when talking about groceries. Worse, it is unethical, because it dehumanizes children, reducing them to economic units. In this formulation, neither they nor their parents are individuals with aspirations, endowed with free will and the ability to act in their own self-interest; they are a mere funding stream for public school districts.
This type of headline is all too common. Most people wouldn’t even bat an eye at it. But this isn’t just semantics. It gets at the heart of the way many people view public education.