Building Community

The thing that sets public schools apart from private schooling is the potential to bring together diverse groups of people, with a wide range of backgrounds and cultures to knit together community. Public and private schools are equally equipped to teach math and science. Both public and private schools can develop 21st Century Skills such as critical thinking and collaboration.

We heard little if anything about public schools role to build community. The focus on 21st Century Skills makes sense but not at the exclusion of civil society. The trend line in our society is toward fragmentation. 21st Century tools – such as the internet – facilitate fragmentation. We have few institutions left in our society that span the boundaries of our society. Public schools can play this role.

Building community is on the top of no one’s priority list when it comes to education. In my experience, community is typical third, fourth or fifth on people’s priority list. Thus, it’s easy for developing civil community to slip through the cracks. But, it is essential that we don’t let this happen. All we need to do is look across history and the globe to see the fruits of fragmentation. It’s typically violence.

We must be mindful to keep civil community as an important priority for public schools. Public schools have been an essential piece of America’s fabric in part because of the role to build community.


2 Responses to “Building Community”

  1. Brad Jolly Says:

    John, what evidence do you have that public schools are more successful than private schools in building people who successfully contribute to a civil society?
    Are, say, the crime rates lower in public school graduates? Are private school graduates more likely to join criminal gangs? Are public school graduates more likely to engage in volunteer work or give more money to charity? Are private school graduates less competent in performing their work that serves consumers in the free market? Are public school students more likely to make informed voting choices? Are private school students more likely to cheat on their taxes? Are public school students more likely to live according to the Golden Rule or the model of Christ? Do private school students have more conflicts with their neighbors? Do public school students burden society with the costs of alcoholism, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and venereal disease less than private school students?
    I do not have the answers to these things, although I do have my guesses.
    So I will ask: What data suggests that public schools actually do a better job of creating a successful civil society than private schools do?

  2. John Creighton Says:

    Private institutions and private schools can and do make contributions to civil society. There is no question about it.
    Private schools also are capable of teaching civility. I once took a tour of Rocky Mountain Christian School. I was impressed by how intentional they are about teaching civility – for instance in their lunch room. It is impressive. The rub is that the school is very homogeneous. The students are not learning to act with civility toward people who are of different backgrounds.
    Further, the very nature of a public institution – schools or otehr types -changes people’s relationship to it.
    Everyone has a claim and thus the right to exert influence on public institutions. The same is not true with private institutions.
    But, we also have responsibilities for public institutions. If we cede our responsiblities for public institutions they will founder. The relationship between a student and a private institution is one of consumer-supplier. The supplier has the right to deny access to the product and the consumer has no responsibilities beyond deciding whether to continue to be a patron.
    The very nature of being part of public institution fosters a different experience, different sensibilities and different skills.
    It is true that not all public institutions live up to their potential in this regard. But, that’s not a reason to do a way with democratic institutions. It means we need to revive this aspect of their purpose.

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