What if Thomas Jefferson Could Come Back and Talk to Betsy DeVos About Education?

neem bookLast month, Western Washington University history professor Johann Neem visited The Author’s Corner to talk about his new book  Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America.

Over at the website of the National Education Association, Neem talks to Mary Ellen Flannery in a piece titled “What Would Thomas Jefferson Say to Betsy DeVos.”

Here is a taste of the interview:

The idea of the “common good” is referenced often in the book. These founders of public education saw that “common” or public schools would serve a common or public good. You still hear this in policy-oriented conversations about public higher education, but less often in discussions about K12 education. Is it an idea that’s falling out of favor?

Johann Neem: I think we’ve lost that focus. From the very beginning, public schools always have had mixed purposes. In the 19th century, there was a strong civic component—it was about preparing citizens for democracy. Of course there were people left out, like African-Americans, but the goal was to create common ground. And there also was this idea around developing human beings, and investing in our nation’s economy.

What’s happened is we’ve lost the first two purposes, and focused almost entirely on the third—we’ve reduced our notion of public schools to meeting the needs of a global economy. We talk about college and career readiness, and really about career readiness. We’re not talking about the liberating experiences that come with education, and the possibility of creating more fulfilled lives. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to remind people that we do care about these things.

Read the rest here.