What makes a Public School Public? A Framework for Evaluating the Civic Substance of Schooling
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Between the banality of the phrase in some contexts and its sacredness in others, it is hard even to ask the most basic question: what makes a public school public? In realms of governance, curriculum, and pedagogy, schools are public not when they achieve a mystical unity, wholeness, or sense of democratic virtuous perfection. They are not public merely when they are accepting tax dollars and obeying state laws of governance. They are public, significantly if not completely, when they are enacting common worlds. Public schools, whatever their future forms and substance, are unique spaces where educational possibility and relation afford us the opportunity to create such common worlds. Across difference we bring children together to share resources and aspirations in the name of our common fates and converging interests. We enact the tensions of public life, face its impossibilities, and create possible openings for public work and public learning now and in the future. The civic substance of schooling is built when ‘‘public’’ becomes more than a noun — more than a plural noun, even — but a verb constituting the active work of inhabiting it and (re)building it in each era.
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