In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court identified America’s system of public education as “the very foundation of good citizenship.” An educated public is critical to a system that relies on popular elections, which is why Justice Felix Frankfurter referred to public school teachers as “the priests of our democracy.” Yet in recent decades, politicians and educators have downplayed this reality, viewing public schools primarily as places to equip students to become skilled workers. “A world-class education,” President Barack Obama argued in 2011, “is the single most important factor in determining not just whether our kids can compete for the best jobs but whether America can out-compete countries around the world.” Educators adopted the mantra that schools must enable students to be “career and college ready,” with little thought for preparing them to be good citizens.
How do we go about putting democracy back into public education? Two new books from University of Chicago professors—one a legal scholar, the other a sociologist—offer important answers. The law professor Justin Driver traces the efforts of the Supreme Court to uphold the principles of the Constitution in the education system in his engaging and absorbing new book, The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind. “No civic task is more essential,” he writes, “than ensuring that the Constitution is viewed in public schools not as some abstract piece of parchment” but as “a vital, meaningful document whose principles inform students’ lives every time they step within the schoolhouse gate.” Yet in tackling issues from the use of corporal punishment to a student’s right to equal educational resources, the courts have fallen short.
Read more at The New Republic