Six Principles of Public Education
Trends such as charter schools, technology, and new standards and testing are spurring major changes in U.S. public education. When discussing fundamental principles about public education, here are questions that should be examined about any proposal to reform public education.
DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES
The first National Congress for Public Education, meeting in Washington, D. C. in September, 1998, vigorously affirms that public schools are essential to the health of our democratic society. To advance our nation's commitment to public education, the participants endorse the principles set forth in the accompanying list.
Public education has deep roots in our nation's past. James Madison, "Father of the Constitution" and architect of the Bill of Rights, elegantly described the link between the education of citizens and our system of government in an 1822 letter: "A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." Madison envisioned a future where the "education needed for the common purposes of life would be diffused" through the entire Society.
Our country developed public education over the course of a century and a half, not only to provide each and every citizen a quality education to meet their individual needs and purposes, but in order to ensure a more cohesive society and a democratic form of government. Public education should promote an understanding of the diversity among us, and the unity that flowers only through honoring that diversity. Furthermore, the health of our democratic republic depends upon public schools fostering fundamental constitutional values--justice, freedom, and equality. As James Madison expressed it, "What can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of Liberty & Learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual & surest support?"
The following principles reflect our intent to promote these values, as we work to support and strengthen public education.
(From Education, Volume 72, Number 11, 29 July 1991 : front page.) that posted on New South Wales Teachers Federation website.
Here is a different take on principles from a teacher's perspective.
Principles of Public Education
The public system must deliver equal opportunity for all children to develop their abilities to the fullest, regardless of where those children attend school. This will be achieved through:
The public school system is primarily concerned with the education and welfare of its students. School and system administration must reflect the primacy of teaching and learning.
The central relationship in schooling is that between student, teacher and parent. This relationship should be reflected in decision making throughout the system.
A successful public education system is one which provides a service to the community and attracts students because of the availability of that service. To see this service in market place terms is totally inappropriate. Governments must be held accountable for public education and not allowed to privatise this vital public service, or to separate themselves from responsibility for resourcing schools adequately by transferring those responsibilities onto local administration.
A strong public education system with a well-qualified and supported teaching profession, free from political interference, is among our greatest safeguards of democracy.
This profession must have:
Public schools must be able to continually attract new teachers and retain the experienced teachers. Not only should teachers receive public support in their work, but they should also receive working and employment conditions which are competitive and attractive. Among the major benefits of teaching in the public education system are security, tenure and a state-wide transfer and promotions system.
A public education system flourishes with active parent and community involvement. To ensure this, opportunities must be created to strengthen parent and community participation.
12 Ideals Worth Pursuing In Public Education
In a good school both teacher and student define the right challenge. Here are 12 educational ideals worth pursuing. They become powerful when we apply them not only to students but to everyone in a learning community of students, teachers, parents, administrators and staff.
Students should be:
Readers of literature. Literature opens the door to conversations with people of other eras and makes them contemporaries. The particulars of one story can reveal general truth about all lives. Well-read students encounter an array of books that address the familiar and the unfamiliar. They read authors of different religions, race and gender to gain perspective on the world.
Poets whose words envision new ways of being. William Carlos Williams wrote, “It is difficult/To get the news from poems/Yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” Poetry is often mistakenly thought to be a powerless escape from life, but poetry can open possibility, restore feeling and recharge desire.
Writers who reflect thoughtfully. Writing activates an inner voice that can take multiple points of view, ask questions and pose possible answers. Writing is also a public endeavor. When writers share with others, they put themselves on the line and risk criticism of others.
Problem solverswho can use mathematics. In the 16 th century, mathematicians discovered that fractions could be stated as decimals by changing the unit of measurement from ones to tenths or hundredths. From this seemingly simple conceptual shift, mathematical calculations became dramatically easier. Today, math is the global language of economics, engineering, banking, measurement, navigation and architecture.
Observers who sense the wonder of science. Observers look outward to the large and far away or inward to the near at hand. Early in the 17th century, Galileo turned the telescope toward the heavens to find a new world.
Citizens who study history and take action. An educated populace is necessary to preserve and renew democracy. Democratic ideals can be identified on many levels. To be citizens, students must learn to act in the school, community, state, nation and world. Human dignity is preserved only when the just take action.
Speakers of two languages who cross cultural borders. Students who are encapsulated in one language can cross borders to learn different ways of doing things, gain perspective and meet people with whom they can create new knowledge that would not have been possible in one culture alone.
Workers who can create with their hands and use technology. The field worker, the carpenter, the baker and the seamstress create and harvest with calloused hands. Technology extends the hands of workers to accomplish much. Students can learn technology to apply their craft creatively in the service of others for a just wage.
Artists who sculpt, draw or paint. Children seem to have no trouble seeing themselves as artists. In Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, the young aviator becomes frustrated with adults because they cannot see his drawing for what it is—a boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant. To see oneself as an artist requires a child-like faith that can take joy in the act of creating.
Musicians who sing or play an instrument. In many African cultures people not only celebrate with singing, but they sing to make the work go easier. Music is created on many levels: the composer writes a score, musicians play the piece, and the audience listens and appreciates. These require overlapping and distinct skills.
Athletes who exercise for a lifetime. In athletics few perform and many watch. Yet physical activity is for everyone. Students are aware of their muscles when they stretch. They learn to push themselves and to rest. A sport provides the exhilaration of legs churning, a heart beating and lungs pumping in unison.
Leaders who recognize the moral dimension. Moral leaders take the time to reflect, examine their actions and ask questions. Did I do unto others as I would have them do unto me? Have I taken what life has offered and used it to the best of my ability?
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