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Document Type

Special Section 1

Theme

NARRATIVES OF CHILDREN’S LIVES

Abstract

A few years ago I was invited to be part of a community focus group to discuss education in our local county. This conversation was part of a broader effort to develop a blueprint for future community development, and it involved other focus groups representing diverse perspectives. In our group there were several district superintendents, a school board member and a university representative. I was there as the head of a small independent school. Near the end of the conversation, we were asked what we would like the broader community to know about our field and what it contributes to the community. One of the superintendents talked about the important role that schools play in preparing young people for the workforce. Having recently read John Goodlad’s book, Education for Everyone (2004), in which he writes about the public purpose of schools in a democratic society, I proposed to the group that schools not only prepare workers for the economy, but more importantly, they also should be preparing citizens for our democracy. This seemed to cause a brief hiccup in the conversation, as if someone had made a slightly rude noise, but then another member of the group picked up on the idea. However, she related it to getting her son’s report card and reading the section on “citizenship” in which he was rated on items such as getting his work done on time, following directions and getting along with others. In other words, being a good citizen at that school was equated with being a compliant and responsible worker. I was perplexed. How had the noble and grand idea of being a literate, informed and involved citizen exercising one’s First Amendment rights been reduced to this mundane level? But, no one else seemed to think it was odd; the conversation wrapped up and we all went our separate ways. This vignette continues to haunt me. This was a group of intelligent, educated, well-intentioned professionals, yet they all accepted her version of citizenship. I gained a better appreciation of Goodlad’s urgent feeling that our democracy is in danger (2004). If schools are not preparing citizens who can engage in public discourse, who can negotiate across different perspectives for the common good, who is?

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