Joel and I on C-SPAN, and his resonse to a viewer

Dear Mr. Wood,

Thank you for your note.  If the C-Span discussion came across as sounding like I advocate one particular political position that schools should promote, that’s unfortunate.  I don’t.  I advocate for free and open exchange of ideas, especially controversial ones — that’s how you teacher students about democracy.  You might like to read the introduction to the book where I outline some reasons I think the conversation is currently biased in schools and why it shouldn’t be. Or my chapter in the book called “Politics and Patriotism in Education.”  You’d also enjoy Gerald Graff’s chapter: “Another Way to Teach Politically Without P.C.: Teaching the Debate About Patriotism.”  It’s the debate that we all want taught, not a particular position.

I’m against indoctrination as I’m sure you are and that’s why I’m concerned about the way these discussions are censored in schools.  I’d like it if people like you and I could appear together in classrooms after the pledge is recited and talk about the pledge and why each of us thinks it’s important, who doesn’t, why, its history, and so on. If you’re interested in more of what I think on this (and I realize you may not be), here are a few links to articles that are related:

In particular:
– The Kappan special issue on democracy and civic engagement
– “Reconnecting Education to Democracy: Democratic Dialogues”
– “The Politics of Civic Education”
– “Teaching Democracy: What Schools Need to Do”
– “Educating the ‘Good’ Citizen: Political Choices and Pedagogical Goals”
– “Education for Democracy”

As you expected, it’s a bit lengthy to get into a discussion on school choice.  Suffice it to say, there are now a growing number of studies that show clearly who benefits if school choice includes private school choice: wealthy students, at the expense of poorer ones. From my reading of the research, voucher systems that include taking the money away from desperately underfunded public schools are (mostly) a cynical effort to simply end public education in the U.S.A. — even though public schools are one of the most successful social institutions in the history of the country (read, for example David Tyack’s The One Best System or Tinkering Toward Utopia — two excellent books).  I’m all for some choice within the public school systems.  There are many excellent theme-based public schools out there and we should support them.

With best regards,

Joel Westheimer, Professor
University Research Chair in Democracy and Education
Director, Democratic Dialogue
University of Ottawa (Ontario)

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