The U.S, and the school systems in most of our cities, including Sacramento, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and others, are currently at a crisis point. The current economic crisis has ended almost all school reform efforts. Politicians and candidates like Meg Whitman continue to pontificate, but lack of funding and the demoralizing cuts in school budgets and staff have ended almost all real reform. Whitman proposes to cut the state budget $15 billion, at least 40% of that would come from k-12 education.
If anti tax radicals win the elections, Schools will continue their decline. A segment of society will be well-educated, another segment will continue to fail.
The economic crisis for working people and people of color will continue to grow (Mishel, Bernstein, Allegretto, 2007, Paul Krugman, The return of depression economics and the crisis of 2008. (2009) Dean Baker, Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy, (2009) Nomi Prins. It Takes a Pillage: Behind the bailouts, bonuses and backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street. (2009), and the numerous other others cited on this blog in posts on the economic crisis. )
Alternatively, schools could be transformed, into places where education is a rich, compelling, and affirming process that prepares all young people to make thoughtful contributions to their community in economic and civic terms.
The possibility for change exists and gives those of us dedicated to democratic schools hope. Current proposals promoted by conservative institutes such as school choice and using public monies to fund private education will not lead to democratic reform. Rather than continue these privileges, a reform movement must build on democratic ideals of progress and equality of opportunity. These traditional values can triumph over the hostility and violence produced by racism, sexism, and class bias presently accepted as “normal” and natural in our schools.
The growth of the African American, Asian, and Latino middle class—a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement’s use of political power to reduce discrimination based on race—provides powerful evidence that racism can be combated through education and public policy. Frederick Douglass spoke to this issue in 1849 when he wrote the following:
The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all absorbing, and for the time being putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physically one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will.
(Douglass, 1849/1991, p. vii)
Adapted From: Choosing Democracy; a practical guide to multicultural education. Campbell, Duane. 2010. P, 404, with economic references updated.