Schools and the Common Good

Elsewhere, I’ve touched on the history of public education and the important idea of the “Common,” as in the Common School and the Common Good. My whole thinking about public education is that our schools are where we express our vision of a good society and try to create that society. In doing this we come together, finding common ground, defining the common good while preparing our children to contribute to a society where the common good is paramount.

This is by definition a secular project; church and state are separate.  The creation of public schools was in part designed to secularize the notion of a common good. But religious groups and thinking are an important part of our society and those visions remain relevant. Earlier I posted some excerpts from the United Church of Christ on public education. Today I’m posting some thoughts from a recent document in the Catholic Social Action tradition, a tradition that has shaped who I am. These come from, A Platform for the Common Good, drafted and ratified by a coalition of Catholic organizations. One of the authors, Robert Beezat, will be speaking at Edgewood College on September 25.

Under the heading of “Promote the General Welfare” there are calls to action on a number of topics, including education.  This is what the platform has to say.

Government Action Needed:

On Education

  • Increase education funding and distribute resources equitably, with special attention to schools in low-income neighborhoods
  • Pay teachers fair and adequate wages and institute programs to encourage teacher retention
  • Provide more arts, music and other cultural enrichment courses
  • Ensure that special education students have the resources and trained teachers they need
  • Ensure that education includes life skills and vocational training to prepare students for jobs
  • Provide free universal preschool/Head Start
  • Fund educational mandates.

Individual/ Community Action Needed:

  • As parents, be involved in our children’s education
  • Hold regional school boards accountable.

Other education related planks appear elsewhere, under the headings “Establish Justice” and “Ensure Domestic Tranquility.”

  • Work to lessen income disparities and to reform tax policies that favor the wealthy and corporate interests.
  • Acknowledge that discrimination, including racism and sexism, continues to impact public systems and encourage public employees and others to engage in anti-discrimination training
  • End discrimination in all institutional forms.Support and promote programs that promote a fair distribution of resources and serve vulnerable populations
  • Support and promote programs and activities that address prejudice and discrimination
  • Write letters to the editor and op-eds to encourage anti-racism education and better relationships within our communities
  • Fund after-school programs, jobs for youth, and continuing education (GED, ESL) for adults

Many, many good and important ideas about how to work toward the common good.  These ideas should be at the heart of the Church’s work, but often get lost.

Thomas J. Mertz

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