The Ignored Commons: Our Children

I have recently discovered an Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not speaketh to the folly of charter schools.”

When I explain that charter schools perform no better than public schools, and in many cases, create problems worse than the ones we need to reform in our current system (see my recent primer), I incite the ire of charter advocates, many of whom are middle-class and progressive. And this has led to another realization: Charter schools allow middle-class progressives the ability to appease guilt-free their inner (and closeted) Libertarian.

When I offer accurate, evidence-based generalizations about charter schools, they respond, “But my child’s charter school is wonderful and much better than the school we were zoned for!”

Setting aside that one example doesn’t disprove a generalization (or that we could easily find a parent of a child who would say the exact same thing but with zoned school and charter switched), this comment is about a really important question: Shouldn’t all parents be able to secure a good school for their children?

The answer is, “Of course,” but the problem lies in a much harder question of how.

In our capitalistic system where we see most things in terms of commodities and investments, we often tend also to speak of our glorious Market as if the Commons do not exist, as if the Commons do not serve as the foundation upon which that Market (might) work.

And therein is the problem for progressive parents seeking a good school for their children, and the paradox of getting mine while all others are left to fend for themselves.

This is a fact we like to ignore: It is in the best interest of any parents’ child that all children receive the best schooling possible, the most equitable schooling possible. For any parents to get their children a great school while ignoring other people’s children is also to disregard their own children.

It is the “other people’s children” problem coming against “they’re all our children.”

As long as any of us fail to see that all children are our most precious Commons, as long as any of us are eager to get ours while others don’t, as long as we view the possibility of communities demanding that no parent or child should need school choice, as long as the public remains trapped in the culture of competition, choice, and rugged individualism—then calls for “they’re all our children” will remain mere idealism, mere sloganism.

Ignoring that each child is our child doesn’t deny that this is true, but it certainly creates a culture that fails its most basic human potential.


  1. I just wrote about this very thing in a blog in reference to a charter school coming to my town. ( I don’t know how we band together because the “reformers” are succeeding in changing things (here in Indiana we are the poster children for “deform”) sometimes with the complicity of our school administration, sometimes not. We try to help people connect the dots, but we are becoming alienated from each other faster than we can raise awareness. It’s disheartening. How do we organize to fight against this? There’s a supermajority in our statehouse and a tea party governor in the mansion.

  2. Dr. Thomas, I aspire (in my advanced years, mind you) to write so well as you do. “…[t]here inner Libertarian…” Man, you hit it out of the park on that one. Perfect.

  3. Margaret Benson says:

    This is a perpetual problem. But it is not just those who value progressive education who have it. Our inner city school districts suffer because the middle class gave up on the cities decades ago. They took themselves, their individual family resources and resourcefulness (‘let’s go to the museum and look at the dinosaurs this weekend”) and moved to the suburbs. City school districts — and in come cases just the “in town” school districts have struggled ever since. To really care for all our children we need to equalize the resources of districts, and figure out how to reintegrate schools along class lines as well as along race/ethnicity lines. We also need to figure out how to offer different pedagogical approaches within the public system (not the current charter system which allows charter schools to be run by private organizations who can get money from sources other than district tax dollars).

  4. I mostly agree with what you write, but as far as this: “For any parents to get their children a great school while ignoring other people’s children is also to disregard their own children.”, I’d ask you what exactly am I supposed to do?

    My local zoned school is a test-prep, drill-to-kill, twelve times a year testing factory. I cannot and will not subject my child to that. I’ve watched the girl next door – a bright, motivated child – go through it and I’ve seen the spirit sucked right out of her. I wish that it weren’t that way and I’m willing to do my part to fight it, but few others are on board. Many of the parents (including the parents of the now-nearly-lifeless girl next door) seem to like the tests. They like that schools are “accountable”. They like to brag about their kids’ scores. So, again, what am I supposed to do?

    I found a wonderful, small, progressive private school close to our house. It’s not horribly expensive as private schools go, but it’s more expensive than most people in my neighborhood could afford. IMHO, this school is exactly what schools should be and when I become emperess of the universe, they will be. So, yes, I sought a great school for my child. It’s not that I’m disregarding anyone else’s children, it’s just that mine are the only ones that I have any authority over, and mine are the only ones I can afford to send to private school. If you have a better option which helps all children but which doesn’t involve smothering my own joyful little girls in a drill factory, I’m all ears.

  5. The description of children as the commons (or at least a facet of the commons) is apt. The lunatics at FOX and their GOP flavor-of -the-month market-test candidate and occasional FOX News contributors either do not understand (or avoid like a holy water and garlic oil spritzer) that fact that our nation, it’s resources and the economy are also part of the commons. To allow a mad race allowing a few to exploit or stake out a share of that commons far beyond in value their usefulness to the commons is indefensible. I saw John Stossel, great apologist for Satan posing as a Libertarian, explain to Bill O’Reilly that the “tragedy of the commons” was all about the lazy colonists in pre-America who didn’t want to work for their share of the commons. Famous for bashing unions and defending greed (and having found a warm embrace on FOX) he ignores the true meaning of the tragedy: the in-sustainability of a resource in the face of greed and an unwillingness to be more proactive in the distribution of resources. Our children are the future, a common resource and investment for OUR future, and reformers are joining policy makers to treat them like investments for THEIR future.


  1. […] The Ignored Commons: Our Children – @ the chalk face. […]

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