Jane Q. Public here, front and center

I recently read an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun by Wendy D. Puriefoy ("Public engagement and education excellence") of which the opening line was "Too much of the public is missing from public education."

And I agree. I agree that we aren't engaging enough when it comes attending school board meetings or even questioning those that are running for school board. That we don't question enough how budgets are not only crafted but executed. We certainly cry foul when our property taxes are raised or we are asked to pass a levy that would benefit our schools, but once those taxes pass, once that levy fails we don't follow through. We know how critical early childhood education and interventions are, yet our elected leaders keep balancing the budget by cutting funding to this critical programs. And we don't call them, or call them out about it. 

I speak with members of "the public" every day about education issues. We debate. We write. We make phone calls. We visit elected leaders. We volunteer in our children's classrooms. We fill backpacks with food. We collect clothing for those without. We spend our own money to travel to conferences or meetings so we can try to make a difference. We gather together at our state capitol to let lawmakers know that we are concerned about the most vulnerable of our public: our children. 

Advocates and children at the Kentucky Youth Advocates Children's Advocacy Day at the Capitol

And while In this instance we weren't there specifically to discuss education issues, although certainly there are many pending in our legislation this session (and as I write this the education subcommittee is deep in dialogue about  raising the drop-out age from 16 to 18, and after much back and forth the House voted 87-10 to pass), many who attended this rally were there for other reasons:
  • because death from child abuse and neglect is tragic yet preventable;
  • because the first five years of life are most critical for children, and we need to ensure that funding for early childhood programs do not go below revised budgets and we need to keep funding for expanded preschool opportunities;
  • because we need to improve alternative education programs (which in Kentucky currently serve more than 60,000 students);
  • because we need to limit incarceration of youth for misbehavior.
So the public isn't missing from public education, or other public issues for that matter.What is missing is attention being paid to the public when they speak about these concerns.

Far too often the discussion is happening when the public isn't present, or sadly, isn't invited to be present. Decisions are made every day and only after the fact does a parent or community member learn that there was a meeting. It isn't that the information is being kept in a secret location or written about in code, it's just not being distributed to all parties in a respectful way.

We also don't quite know how we want the public to engage. Certainly leaders like it when we rally for their concerns but not against them. Our school systems want parents to attend a field trip, but not question how that field trip was budgeted for. We want there to be a public face to public education but we often don't want there to be a public voice speaking out about public education.  

The public is here. Many of us do not have degrees or get our story told in a magazine. Many of us do not get paid fees to speak, in fact, many of us do not get paid, period. We publicly engage because that is what we should do, not because someone wants us to. 

Nice to meet you. Jane Q. Public here, ready to advocate, ready to rally, ready to be the public part of public education. Here are my three reasons:

I'm ready to have a public conversation about public education. Are you ready to listen?

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