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Critiquing the Changing Practices of Public Schooling

Throughout America and across the world, new experiments in public education are taking hold. But many of these alternatives lack important qualities of formally and functionally public schools and may not adequately preserve democratic life. It also appears that many aspects of these schools may be incompatible with the goal of educating for citizenship, which involves living publicly and working with others. As I explained earlier, this is not to presume that traditional public schools have sufficiently achieved these goals, for clearly they have been plagued by many shortcomings and even outright injustices. Nor do I want to set up a straw man via new forms of schooling. Instead, I aim to employ my definitions of publics and public goods and the five elements of public schools I defined in the last chapter as ideals that are most achievable in deeply public schools, but can also be used as criteria for assessing the potential and practicalities of new forms of schooling.

In this chapter, I analyze publications, websites, speeches, school materials, news stories, court cases, and other documents related to new forms of schools, their leaders, and school governance. I found that some of these tend to overly emphasize individuals and their economic roles in the market, corporatize school management, disconnect schools from communities, conflate private interests with public life, replace political understandings of citizens with economic ones, privilege freedom over equality without sufficient justification, and discourage spending money on the more costly aspects of good citizenship education. While some of these changes arise from some of the more worthy elements of neoliberalism, others grow out of the worst aspects of that ideology, which most endanger our schools or our democracy. In the midst of rapid changes in our schools, it’s important that we track those changes and critique their implications so that we can better plan our next steps as publics who actively craft our schools and our public goods.

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