Speaking of Socialism

“Three branches and three levels of government”, I explain, diagraming the hierarchy of national state and local government on the interactive whiteboard. “Now you try. Match the roles with their positions in this table. Yes, Governor is in the executive branch of state government, just as President is in the executive branch of the national government.” We are studying the roots of democracy in 3rd grade Social Studies. “What is a socialist, someone wants to know, why is it a bad thing?” Interesting question and observation. So often teachers can hear adults speaking through the mouths of children. ” Socialism, hmmm, what does it sound like?” Someone says he hears the word ‘social’. “And what do you know about social?” I persist. It’s like having a party or having friends, several agree.” OK, we can look it up” audible groans. “I will look it up”, I encourage. “Let’s see”,

” Any of various political philosophies that support social and economic equality, collective decision-making, and public control of productive capital and natural resources, as advocated by socialists …”

Interesting, I think to myself. This sounds just like our school system. The students are satisfied, sort of, they have no further questions after we discuss the meaning of collective decision-making. On the other hand, my head is imagining what it would be like to have a school system created in the image of democracy. Why? For the very same reasons, ‘we’ capitalist supporters enjoy innovation, self determination and upward mobility. People who actually work within the governmental structure don’t enjoy those economic benefits. We don’t generate capital, so we can’t play the game. I see this incongruous match of public schooling with the teaching of democratic principles a truly fascinating societal tension producing unrealistic expectations for schools.

I googled the topic and found a number of people agree, acknowledge and in fact support the socialist agenda of public education. On the other hand, the detractors also feel strongly that these two philosophies should not coexist indefinitely. What are the alternatives?

Joanne Barkan digs very dig and supplies ample fuel for the fire of educational reform in her recent article in Dissent magazine.


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