These Schools Belong to You and Me: Why We Can't Afford to Abandon Our Public Schools
reviewed by Angela Cartwright - February 08, 2018
Title: These Schools Belong to You and Me: Why We Can't Afford to Abandon Our Public Schools
Author(s): Deborah Meier & Emily Gasoi
Publisher: Beacon Press, Boston
ISBN: 0807024732, Pages: 208, Year: 2017
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democracy, if it is to endure, must be seen as much more than the vote each adult citizen casts for a representative. Neither can it remain an abstraction, but rather, democracy lives in our daily practices and interactions with each other (p. 6).
As we enter the second year of the Trump administrations unprecedented attack on public education, These Schools Belong to You and Me: Why We Cant Afford to Abandon Our Public Schools is a timely reminder of what is at stake in the face of the neoliberal agenda to utilize flawed assessment models as the impetus to privatize education. Authors Deborah Meier and Emily Gasoi make a strong case for the institution of public education, rightly identifying it as the bedrock of a healthy democracy (p. x). Democratic schooling pioneer Meier and veteran Gasoi provide a vision for those who ask, How could it be otherwise? These Schools Belong to You and Me could be the lynchpin text in an educational leadership or graduate level teacher education course as easily as it could be used as a call to action for a local community struggling to organize and self-advocate.
The political struggle over the purpose and character of our schools represents a larger battle for the right to name and frame the character of our society (Apple, 2006; Heybach, 2009), and Gasoi holds nothing back in the Preface and Introduction, arriving at the clear inescapable conclusion that we are in danger of losing the very essence of our identity (p. x). Alternating chapters provide a balance between the provocative vision-casting of Meier and the practice of Gasoi. Meiers chapters make a strong case for the necessity of democratically governed schools, rightly asserting that it is unreasonable to expect the application of informed citizenship skills by generations of students who have never had the opportunity to practice citizenship skills in their daily lives. Democratic schools are small and autonomous, and they privilege relational, respectful, and communal decision-making (p. 138). Karps (1995) words still resonate when reflecting on Meiers argument: public school is where students are taught what society thinks of itself (p. 33). Indeed, as Meier and Gasoi challenge us to face the consequences of inaction, the antagonistic relationship between public education and the free market ideology becomes clear: democracy is disruptive.
Gasois chapters, which tend to be rooted in the day to day experiences of an educator in a democratically governed school, highlight both the promises and challenges of the model. The environment she describes leads the reader to feel equal parts excitement and skepticism. Even as youre imagining the benefits of the model, youre simultaneously wondering how it can be sustainable on a large scale. Part of the beauty of this text is that the case for democratically governed schools is so solidly made by Meier that the reader can resist the temptation to dismiss Gasois chapters as naïve; instead, the reader is left with the knowledge that as improbable as systemic change seems, especially now, the stakes are simply too high to do anything but relentlessly seek it.
One of the most important chapters is Meiers The False Promise of High Stakes Accountability, in which she makes apparent the fraud that is our current system of student and teacher accountability through standardized testing. Though not new information, Meiers concise and simple treatment of the problematic system is invaluable in a time when facts are expendable and collective memory is hazy. Teachers and concerned citizens, repeat as often as necessary: no, standardized testing is not a valid measure of student success; yes, standardized testing precludes the success of all students by necessitating academic winners and losers; and yes, standardized tests contain cultural biases to ensure that the academic losers are students of color and students with a lower SES.
Another significant issue addressed by Meier is the co-opting of educational reform language by the very forces that seek to defund and dismantle public education. In the same straightforward manner in which she dismantled the argument for standardized testing, Meier lays bare the hollow calls for school choice by proponents of voucher programs, such as those from the grossly unqualified Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. In What Happens to Democratic Education Deferred? Meier explains how the lack of accountability choice schools enjoy leads to discriminatory admissions policies that exclude children marginalized by race, class, language, and exceptionality.
Though the concerns addressed in the text are not new, nor is the evidence, the work is nonetheless incendiary in its indictment of the sociopolitical forces aligning against public education. From the White House Ministry of Truth to the doublespeak (see Meiers treatment of choice and Gasois treatment of grit) of neoliberal education deformers (p. 152), Meier and Gasois insistence on speaking the truth in these Orwellian times is indeed a revolutionary act. Make no mistake: the educational environments they envision on a large scale go beyond reform; they will require a revolutionary paradigm shift, one that must be embraced by students, educators, and communities as we, in the words of the watchdog group Freedom House, bear witness to and navigate this turning point in [our] democratic trajectory (p. x).
In the first chapter, Meier asks readers to consider what is worth fighting for, and her answer is a rallying cry for all educators to abandon the pretense of neutrality. It is worth fighting for free, universal education in a democracy because it is where we learn to be able to see from multiple perspectives and to be intellectually curious and incisive enough to see through and resist the lure of con artists and autocrats (p. 25). Our future and the future of our children should be a nonpartisan issue, and the marriage of equity to local control as outlined in this book offers talking points that can act as a point of entry in many conversations. Those of us who care about the future of public education (and indeed of the very republic) must continue to engage in these conversations, and These Schools Belong to You and Me provides a compelling and accessible call to action.
Apple, M. W. (2006). Educating the right way: Markets, standards, God, and inequality. New York, NY:
Heybach, J. (2009). Rescuing social justice in education: A critique of the NCATE controversy.
Philosophical Studies in Education, 40, 234245.
Karp, S. (1995). Trouble over the rainbow. In D. Levine, R. Lowe, B. Peterson, & R. Tenorio (Eds.), Rethinking schools: An agenda for change. New York, NY: The New Press.