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Public Education as Community Work (Connections 2015)

The four-page article, “Public Education as Community Work”, by Connie Crockett, Phillip D. Lurie, and Randall Nielsen was published Fall 2015 in Kettering Foundation‘s annual newsletter, Connections 2015 – Our History: Journeys in KF Research. The three authors describe the history of how Kettering has studied the politics of education and reveal some of the challenges faced in education today.

In the article, the authors discuss how the Foundation’s founder, Charles F. Kettering had been aware from the beginning how the education of youth and the way in which public education is shaped by its community, was vital for true democracy. The challenges that Kettering identified in the 20’s, that the community must actively take part in shaping education in order for democracy to continue, are still present today. Below is an excerpt from the article. You can find Connections 2015 available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.
KF_Connections 2015

From the article…

Phil Lurie: Today, it is widely recognized that people are frustrated by the lack of influence they have on the public schools. However, there seems to be little recognition of the potential that exists in the resources outside of schools that could reinforce the work of schooling.

Randall Nielsen: That is what makes the study of the politics of education such a vital part of the foundation’s overarching study of how to make democracy work as it should. The challenges that people face in bringing their collective resources to complementary work in the education of youth are fundamental problems of democracy.

PL: In public policy, and in studies of education, the challenge remains quite narrowly defined. Generally the problem is seen as understanding how people can be more influential in the administration of schools.

Connie Crockett: And how to get people to support the schools, somewhat without question. It is interesting to recall that the foundation’s alternative emphasis on the whole picture of an educating ecology emerged pretty early on at Kettering.

CC: Again, the challenge begins with seeing it as a problem of democracy, not a problem of administration of schooling. The public in Mathews’ 1996 book referred not simply to people living in a particular place, but rather to a diverse body of people willing and able to recognize and act on shared concerns. In so doing, they become a responsible public, in which people hold one another accountable to a covenant that has been legitimately decided upon. Our focus on democracy suggests that citizens need to engage one another in the fundamental challenge of choosing “how do we want to educate our youth?” This is where we remain, and we are still looking for innovators and experimenters.

The Current Focus
RN: The foundation’s studies remain focused on the implications of a simple premise. Young people are educated through experiences that occur inside and outside of schools. The educational capacity of a community is defined by the ability to put the mélange of educational resources to work in complementary ways. We explore the governance of educational resources as a fundamental challenge of democratic citizenship.

PL: The problem is that education remains widely seen as the singular responsibility of schools and professionals. Critical roles citizens play and need to play go unrecognized by professionals and nonprofessionals. As education has become schooling, the non-school educational assets in communities have largely disappeared from the naming and framing of public choices about issues that affect the education of youth. Thus professional educators have detached the governance of schools from the governance of the myriad non-school activities that critically affect educational outcomes. Non-school activities remain as an educational force, but they are not often the subject of citizento-citizen judgment and innovation.

RN: The resulting atrophy of educational citizenship—the shared sense that communities of people have the responsibility and power to shape the education of their youth—weakens educational outcomes and reduces public confidence in school institutions. It also weakens the popular sense of the democratic capacity to shape the futures of children. That is a fundamental threat to democracy itself.

PL: The research is now organized into two complementary areas, both studying innovations in practice. One focuses on showing the potential for the education that occurs outside of schools. The other explores way that people can bring the governance of public schooling into the larger context of the governance of all educational resources.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2015 issue, edited by Kettering program officer Melinda Gilmore and director of communications David Holwerk, focuses on our yearlong review of Kettering’s research over time.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Crockett-Lurie-Nielsen_2015.pdf

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