We need more than resistance to Betsy Devos… we need a strong alternative

Democrats are united against Betsy DeVos, Trump’s school-privatizing, private-school attending Secretary of Education. Democratic lawmakers and even a few Republicans resisted her appointment. But in the wake of their failed last stand against the heiress’ nomination it’s worth asking: What do Democrats want for education?

It is possible that Democrats wish for a return to President Obama’s longtime Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who looked to New Orleans’ massive post-Katrina shift to charter schools as a blueprint for public education, which was accompanied by the firing of nearly all of the cities’ union teachers. Or perhaps Democrats are looking towards blue states for a public school model, like the state of Delaware, where a combination of private and charter schools segregate the public system by both race and class. Continue reading “We need more than resistance to Betsy Devos… we need a strong alternative”

On education and opportunity in American society

Before engaging in discussions of educational funding and resource distribution; before arguing over college debt and pre-K programs; even before the polemics of presidential candidates promising more educational opportunities for more people, we must ask: what is the role of education in society today? Is education merely the acquisition of serviceable skills in the existing economy–skills to train people to perform economic tasks? Or is the purpose to equip individuals to rethink economic and social activities in ways that enables them to remake and transform the economy?

These two different purposes are necessarily opposed in the educational field. The former treats education as instrumental action undertaken for a predetermined purpose of obtaining a specific skill in order to make the individual disposable on the contemporary job market–a machinist, for example. The latter teaches the individual to exercise his or her mind; to learn not a certain skill, but rather the methods and ways of acquiring the necessary knowledge and practices. It develops interpersonal communication, cooperation, and flexibility. More importantly, the latter teaches the student to be an individual that challenges and disrupts, rather than one who simply reproduces and conforms. Continue reading “On education and opportunity in American society”

Strong Citizens Watch: A new kind of vocational school for the new economy

A key tenet in the Democratic Alternative program is education. As discussed in the Intervention, the Democratic Alternative calls for reform in the American educational system so that each individual is adequately equipped to engage the economy and world. In America today, there is a two-tiered educational system, where an elite section of the country has access to the best schools that teach critical thinking and knowledge-based skills necessary for the new economy, while the vast majority partake in routine standardized testing and rote memorization, which leaves individuals ill-equipped and unprepared to partake in—not to mention lead—the most advanced sectors of the economy. Not only must the first-tier model be universalized so that everyone has access to the same top-quality education, but job-training programs also need to be created for people to develop transferable skills for the knowledge-based economy. Continue reading “Strong Citizens Watch: A new kind of vocational school for the new economy”

Introduction to the Strong Citizens Project

Citizens’ spirits are strong, but we are not adequately equipped.Despite having generated enough per capita wealth to eliminate economic insecurity nationwide, the innovative potential of tens of millions of Americans is hampered by day-to-day fears for financial survival. A singular focus on ‘creating jobs’ has failed to address the fact that millions with jobs are dis-empowered at their workplaces, resigned to see work as only a paycheck rather than a means to innovate, create, and empower. Furthermore, those who try to improve their prospects through higher education become burdened with immense debt. Our school system is two-tiered: some Americans have access to high-quality education while others are closed out. One tier provides the analytical, problem-solving and imaginative skills that empower individuals to adapt to and reinvent the world. The other emphasizes rote memorization and specific technical skills, which trains children to reproduce a world that has already left them behind. Moreover, despite progress in recent decades, racial and gender stigmas still linger, inhibiting individuals simply for being who they are.

The Strong Citizens Project is researching policies that work to:

  • Fortify Economic Security: The struggle to satisfy the immediate needs of health care, food, shelter, and safety for oneself and family should not be a barrier to creative participation in our democracy and economy. Economic insecurity should not be a looming threat to an employee against asserting oneself at work or striking out on one’s own. Each individual should be afforded access to basic necessities and educational resources. Taking on insurmountable debt should not be a prerequisite of furthering one’s education.
  • Decentralize Capital for Productive Use: People should have a stake in our common economic resources for experimental and productive use. We should grant easy access to lines of credit and investment funds for the sake of innovation and creation.
  • Increase Revenue Streams for Security and Empowerment: For such security and empowerment, we should experiment with alternative public revenue sources, such as sovereign wealth funds and land-value taxes.
  • Broaden Educational Opportunities: Neither location nor age should determine one’s access to quality education. Educational opportunities should be delinked from property values, so that each American child, no matter their place of residence, has access to high quality public schools. Additionally, each individual should be afforded opportunities for lifelong learning, especially for those who want to make significant mid-life career changes.
  • Promote Empowering Pedagogy: Education should prepare Americans to think for themselves. It should equip us to challenge and change the world rather than simply reproduce it. It should develop the mind to not only navigate the present circumstance, but also to move against and beyond it. Education through rote memorization and training in static, specialized skills should be updated to reflect those skills necessary for entrepreneurship and empowered employment, like creative problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration.
  • Fight Entrenched Discrimination and Stigmatization: The on-going efforts of the past century to fight entrenched discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation should be supported and continued. Entrenched stigmas that have inhibited our neighbors with physical handicaps, mental illnesses, non-traditional families, advanced ages, and minority religions should be confronted and unsettled. Special re-examination should be given to stigmas created by the state, such as those which come with felony convictions and incarceration.

Stay tuned to this section of ProgressiveAlternative.org to follow our work on building this Strong Citizens Agenda. To join the Strong Citizens Project, contact Pete@ProgressiveAlternative.org. To submit an independent post to this section, contact Macabe@ProgressiveAlternative.org.