Arthur Camins: Collective Action, Not Competition, Is Necessary for Strong Public Schools

This blog will take a short mid-autumn break.  Look for a new post on Wednesday, October 28.

Arthur Camins, a strong advocate for equitable public education, has published a new commentary, this time mourning the erosion of America’s long valued ideal of educating all children, not merely the children who seem the most promising or whose parents know how to play the choice game.  He notes that none of  the candidates for President has distinguished himself or herself, “by challenging the winners and losers ethos that has come to pervade even the education of our children.” Camins traces a, “three-decades-long hardening of America’s heart,” “a turn away from caring about the poor, about integration, and indeed about the very idea of social responsibility. Now, callousness passes for entertainment. Before NBC fired him, Donald Trump enhanced his fame by proclaiming “You’re fired!”

Camins rejects school choice, a social policy encouraging self interest and abandoning commitment to the public good: “Policy makers plug charter schools and vouchers as a means to make the contest to climb the economic ladder fairer. Parents, frustrated by the quality of their local public schools, anxiously apply to charter schools, hoping their child will be selected over the competition—other people’s childhood losers.  Is this the ethos that we want for education in the United States?”

And the ethos of competition is not limited to parents vying to promote the prospects of own children. “To advocates for market competition as the improvement mechanism for education, the opening and closing of schools and the resultant dislocation of students are necessary sacrifices on the alter of disruptive innovation.  Similarly, education policy makers promote competition among teachers to get the biggest improvement in student test scores in order to win bonuses or ensure they aren’t the ones fired… The formerly discredited notion of social Darwinism has reemerged as a triumphant management ideology.” “(O)ver the last several decades the wealthy and their political supporters have scored an ideological coup and not coincidentally increased their share of national income.  They have systematically undermined confidence in public institutions in large measure by lowering their own tax burden and then underfunding public institutions so that their effectiveness is diminished… (W)e have witnessed a massive and successful campaign to undermine the idea of collective action.”

Have we who believe in the idea of public education lost the ideological battle?  Camins does not think so.  He challenges supporters of public education to fight as persistently as its opponents have done.  Here are four principles that, in Camins’ view, will reframe the debate: demand policies that promote integrated education where children equitably share experiences; demand state school funding that is not overly-reliant on local property taxes; demand programs that support teachers’ collaborative personal growth; and demand adequate compensation for teachers and support for teachers’ autonomy and responsibility.

Camins believes changing the conversation will not be easy: “I do not expect the candidates to come to these solutions on their own, nor do I expect the mainstream media to ask them to respond to questions about such policies. That is up to voters.”

Arthur Camins is the Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.


One thought on “Arthur Camins: Collective Action, Not Competition, Is Necessary for Strong Public Schools

  1. Camins’ four principles, sensible and just as they are, seem virtually impossible to achieve, but “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” (Robert Browning) Enjoy your well-deserved respite from the wars, Jan.

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