Become a crusader for democracy
I have been writing this column for more than six years. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, repeatedly showcasing the ways in which our community suffers from state laws that inappropriately use tests to define our public schools—and our children—as failures; state laws that take resources appropriated for public school children to pay for private education; and state laws that shift a disproportionate share of the cost of funding public education to local taxpayers, while the state cuts taxes and disinvests.
All of these policies undermine the quality of education available to our youth, increase friction among the stakeholders in the education community, create hostility among neighbors and toward school leaders, make our community less competitive, and weaken our system of public education. The very worst examples of education policy hit us hard. In fact, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district is often among the hardest hit.
We are one district among 609, and every school district is part of our state’s public education system. Each of the issues that is injuring us is weakening our system of public education and undermining the fundamental social compact that binds us together in self-government. We need to pay attention to the system itself, because a strong public education system is the key to a great state and a strong democracy.
While my writing and my advocacy are driven by a commitment to equality and to Cleveland Heights, they are also grounded in my passion for democracy. You wouldn’t call me a flag-waving patriot, but I am a wholehearted believer in democracy: government by and for the people. We do have power, and we are responsible for ensuring that all people have an equal voice, equal opportunity, and the capacity to protect their own rights by participating in our democracy.
This is becoming harder to achieve because of growing economic and social inequality, well-funded private- and charter-school interests, a bellicose embrace of white supremacy, and gerrymandered districts that make lawmakers unresponsive to their constituents.
If the supermajority in the legislature is satisfied with allowing our public system to wither, it is also comfortable with inequality, limited opportunity, unequal participation in self-governance, and a less robust democracy.
Education is the cornerstone of a functioning democracy, so a threat to education is, at its core, a threat to democracy.
In April, about 50 people, who participated in the community discussion of Derek Black’s School House Burning, met to define how we can change education laws and revive the public’s appreciation for the common good. The six small-group discussions were, in themselves, an exercise in democratic participation.
Despite legitimate doubts about the ability to influence the legislature, sitting on the sidelines doesn’t work either. There was energy and excitement about ways to reach out and engage with more people, and to mobilize those who see the connection between education and democracy, to demand better policies. It gave me hope.
At the beginning of the meeting, several participants shared their views of what they had learned from reading Black’s book, and what it means going forward. They captured the urgency of the moment and what is at stake.
One way to get involved is to join the Heights Coalition for Public Education, and speak up for fair school funding and education in service of the common good. Become a crusader for public education! Nothing less than the future of democracy is at stake.
Susie Kaeser has been a proud Cleveland Heights resident siince 1979. She is the former director of Reaching Heights, and is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters.