WORKING IN THE SCHOOLS
Citizens can also work within a school to bolster its offerings or help align school practices with educating for democracy. While choosing to become a teacher is one of the most significant ways that a citizen can contribute to schools, it is understandably not a viable or desirable option for many. Coproduction, in particular, is one alternative approach to augmenting the educational services provided in a school. Rather than merely being seen as volunteerism, coproduction is “part of an effort aimed at solving community problems"7 By working in the school to offer skills, knowledge, or resources, citizens come to better understand public problems, which often leads them to take action to address those problems.
For example, an engineer living in a rural area with limited course offerings may be concerned about the lack of local students going into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields upon graduation, especially in light of former president Obama’s initiatives to increase the number of graduates pursuing advanced manufacturing in order to keep our economy strong. The engineer may volunteer his expertise in the school to offer supplemental STEM lessons in hopes of generating interest and increasing the offerings of the school. While in the school, he may engage in conversations with the students and teachers that shed new light on students’ decisions not to pursue STEM fields, helping him to better understand the problem and leading him to invite similarly concerned scientists to join him in working to address the particular roadblocks within that school that dissuade children from STEM careers. Or, alternatively, he may discover that STEM careers should not be upheld as a universal goal for graduates in his local school and work instead to champion more suitable alternatives based on community need or student interests.
Coproduction reached its height in the 1980s, when movements for increased citizen participation in the civil rights era came head to head with the fiscal constraints of the late 1970s. The wide array of demands placed on our schools today that I described earlier as a result of higher expectations of accountability, alongside the difficult financial situations facing many schools, may prompt citizens to fruitfully turn to coproduction once again.