Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Don't tread on me (or the commons)

I am not inherently opposed to charter schools. 
I am opposed to outsiders narrowing public spaces in my community.
Call me provincial, parochial, or even a local yokel.
We lost much of the commons years ago.I'm fighting hard for what's left.

"If it were up to local municipalities, it would essentially kill charter schools." 

The commons still exist. We still have community spaces, shared by all, that define who we are. We breathe the same air. We drink the same water--at least those of us who avoid the bottled nonsense.

I clam a tidal flat owned by no one, shared by all. Tidal flats are gifts of nature, of god, of grace. I did not earn it. I limit my haul to what I can reasonably share with my clan before the next low tide.

Public education still belongs, tenuously, to local communities. I pay thousands of dollars a year to support our school system, as do my neighbors. Our board of education meets every two weeks, people who live in town, people who I meet on the street. We work together to create a public school district. It's hard work, and it's not cheap.

Democracy has a price.

I just got back from the Bloomfield High Spring Choir Concert. The exuberant young voices brought tears to my eyes (shhh....don't tell anyone). The concert was free.

I've taught 1st generation Haitians and Ecuadorans and Chinese and Dominican Republicans and Filipinos and Albanians and Greeks and Costa Ricans and Viet Namese and British and Bosnians in the few years I've been here.

Imagine a small tidal flat separated into fiefdoms--this flag on the north end, this flag on the south, you get whatever (and only whatever) clams under your flag.

It wouldn't work.

There's a move in a nearby town to set up a Mandarin charter school. About a hundred schools in the States cater to Turkish culture. Folks want to set up a school, well, no law against it, and I have no beef with them. Folks want to spend public money to make them run, though, and now we have a problem.

A very big problem.

Anyone who believes the point of school is to improve the workforce available for private business fails to grasp the concept of the commons. Anyone who believes the point of school is to make kids ready for college and the global economy fails to grasp the concept of the commons.

Without a commons, there is no real community, and maybe we're there already. If you know more about the American Idol judges than you do the family across the street, you're a bigger threat to our republic than some ragged Taliban fighter protecting some poppy seeds in a land you cannot pronounce.

He's not likely to plant a flag on my mudflats, our mudflats. But you might.
And I'm going to spend what's left of this lifetime making sure you don't.


lucychili said...

Rosemary Bechler used a poem by John Clare in her report Unbounded Freedom by the British Council about Creative Commons and Copyright. I couldn't find the original but a blog has quoted the poem. http://opendotdotdot.blogspot.com/2006/09/creative-commons-made-clare.html
It expresses the same concern about fencing and flagging the commons.

Mary Ann Reilly said...

As I read this, I keep wondering if those who would devalue public education so as to make it not a viable choice understand what else they give up alongside it.

doyle said...

Dear lucychili,

Thank you for the link.

I find it tremendously sad that our children have little concept of the commons.

Dear Mary Ann,

I suspect that they do not, and that they are not very happy people because of their limited view.