Thursday, September 30, 2010
A few days ago, in a post that took notice of the recently announced education-funding collaboration between a great mayor (Cory Booker), a great governor (Chris Christie), and a really smart, young, entrepreneur (Mark Zuckerberg), I used the term "government schools" to refer to what are more often referred to as "public schools." Some of those who commented on the post were curious about, or critical of, my use of the term. And, I tried to say why I think it is appropriate.
Over at the "Distinctly Catholic" blog, Michael Sean Winters agrees with me "that the government is in the service of the public, that the society is bigger and broader than the government, that all of us, not just those in government, have a responsibility to improve schools." He worries, though, that my use of the term might be perceived as consonant with a simplistic (and, I think, un-Catholic) anti-government libertarianism.
The worry is a fair one. So, for what it's worth, I want to be clear about why I used the term "government schools", and why I think it is important to (now and then) use it. It is not because I regard government as evil or alien, or because I believe "government" is, necessarily, an epithet. I do feel strongly, though, that the schools-in-question ought not to be able to co-opt the term “public”. It is important -- now and again, anyway -- to deny to the public-education establishment the moral credibility that comes with the term “public”. The schools-in-question are (too often) badly serving the public, they are (to often) not meaningfully operated or controlled by, or accountable to, the public, and those for whose benefit they are (too often) being run currently do not really care all that much about the public. In my view, "private" schools -- and I'm thinking particularly of Catholic schools -- are doing a better job at what the public should (and, for the most part, does) want education to do. This is (one reason) why I think that it is entirely appropriate for the work of Catholic schools to be supported with public funds.
My view is not, and does not reflect, a knee-jerk anti-government-ism. I believe in the res publica, and understand the importance of political authority and of the work of the political community. The schools-in-question, though, have (too often) become a beast, a "blob." They do not (generally speaking) deserve the term “public” – a term that, for me, is not an epithet. The term is used by the public-education establishment for rhetorical advantage, as if Catholic and other private schools were not, in fact, serving the “public” (for less money, and better).