September 2022 - Betsy Vaughn

September 2022 - Betsy Vaughn
Posted on 09/13/2022
School Board Member Betsy Vaughn

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

~Thomas Jefferson

The Founding Fathers believed that American democracy depended on the ability of its citizens to understand political and social issues, to vote wisely, and to resist tyrants. The earliest public schools educated students of all ages in one room with one teacher. They were funded by parents, charitable contributions, and in some cases state support. These schools grew in number throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.  Although by the late 1780s a number of communities had established free local schools paid for by all residents, the concept of publicly funded schools on a wider basis had not yet taken hold. Following the American Revolution, with the conviction that only educated citizens could make the fragile American experiment in self-government succeed, Thomas Jefferson and other early leaders proposed the creation of a formal and unified system of free public schools.

Public education advanced in the 1830s when Horace Mann and other reformers advocated for the creation of state-funded public schools that would be universally available to children of all class backgrounds, races, and ethnicities free of charge. These schools were seen as a public investment in education that not only would impart knowledge, instill civic virtues, and prepare students to obtain good jobs, but also would promote social cohesion.

By 1918, every state had compulsory elementary school attendance. In its relatively short history as a nation, the US had made great strides in achieving the Founding Fathers’ vision of providing free public education  – but, we fell short of providing equity and equal access to non-white segments of our population throughout much of the 20th century.

Today 9 out of 10 students attend a public school. Despite their flaws, public education systems still provide a foundation for our nation’s democracy.  Our public schools welcome ALL children without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability. In contrast, private schools, religious schools, and for-profit charter schools may have specific criteria for acceptance, limited resources, or enrollment caps. Even when students have vouchers, private or religious school tuition may be out of reach for their families.

Ideally, parents should be able to meet the basic needs of their children, but this is not an ideal world. The SDLC provides free breakfast and lunch to all students. We have community schools with wrap-around services in areas of need. We have social service professionals to assist with the needs of our homeless students and students in foster care. We have a robust ESOL program to serve our English Language Learner (ELL) students. We have two special educational centers to serve students with significant cognitive disabilities. We have a special center which provides a nurturing academic environment for teen parents and their children. All of these structures pay dividends that ultimately benefit the entire community.

A well-funded movement seeks to defund public education and redirect taxpayer money to private schools. It disavows the vision of schools as a common ground where a diverse society discovers how to learn from each other. Activists in opposition to public schools support a curriculum with a sanitized version of American history. They believe that lessons about racism harm white children, but studies indicate that discussions about racial inequality and slavery actually create empathy and cross-racial solidarity.

The Founding Fathers were correct: The freedoms that we enjoy as Americans depend on ensuring that ALL our children have uncensored tools to comprehend political and social issues so that they are able to make informed decisions about our nation’s future.