Q&A: Deborah Meier and Emily Gasoi

In today’s hot button discussions about standards and testing, reform, and privatization, the role of schools in preparing all students for their vital participation in a democratic society is too often overlooked, says education scholar and small school champion Deborah Meier. In her new book, These Schools Belong to You and Me: Why We Can’t Afford to Abandon Our Public Schools, Meier and co-author Emily Gasoi argue that the purpose of universal education is to model and provide young people with “an apprenticeship for citizenship in a democracy.” 
They spoke to ASBJ’s Associate Editor Michelle Healy about how schools “can be a force for nourishing democracy or for squelching it.” A longer audio version of this interview is available here. Part-1 and Part-2

Why is it so important to highlight the connection between education and democracy?
Meier: This country was founded with the idea that it’s by and for the people, and if there is any institution that affects people directly and personally and in ways that really reach into our hearts, it’s our schools. Schools prepare kids for a world that all of us have a stake in, whether we have children in school or not. Children spend an enormous amount of time in these institutions, and they send messages to kids. We must be more conscious of those messages if we feel strongly about remaining a democracy.

Gasoi: At Mission Hill [a Boston public Democratic School founded by Meier] I was fortunate enough to be able to work in a school that really demonstrated what's possible.  But there are others out there, as well, but they just are not getting the attention that they should get for really being a model of what public education was initially intended to be: an institution that would prepare future citizens.

What do you hope school board leaders take away from your book?
Gasoi: First, that education for a democratic citizenship should just be more explicitly embedded in what schools do. [The book provides] an illustration of what is possible for schools to be in terms of governance and in terms of culture, in terms of curriculum and in terms of accountability. 

Meier: I hope they can lead the discussion about the role of our schools and the importance of building a democratic community, and what’s our role as a school board, and are there things we should re-think. [As a former school board member] I realize how complicated it is, because you don’t want to micromanage. But, on the other hand, you want to have some real say, and there is a fine line between that, and that’s true of democracy writ large.

 

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