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Rebranding “Public Schools” as “Government Schools”

Julie Bosman’s NYTimes article today describes how conservatives, particularly libertarian conservatives, have replaced the term “public schools” with the term “government schools”, a change in terminology that Wichita Eagle editorial writer Davis Merritt accurately described as “…a calculated pejorative scorning both education and anything related to government.

I’ve lamented this terminology in earlier posts and was interested to read that the term was first coined by Pat Moynihan in the late 1970s but gathered steam in the recent past. Ms. Bosman explains why:

The use of the term “government schools” is part of a broad education agenda that includes restraining costs. The far-right and libertarian wings of the Republican Party are pushing the state to loosen its laws to allow more charter schools. They oppose programs that offer free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches, believing that schools have become part of the “nanny state” — another politically charged term — and are usurping the role of parents.

Fortunately some parents and the vestigial “moderate” Republicans are pushing back on this term, as well they should. Public schools, after all, are not governed by some remote and alien force in Washington DC or, in the case of Kansas, Topeka. They are governed by local school boards who still have a say over who they hire, the raising of local taxes, and how the curriculum is delivered.

And here’s the maddening irony of all this: those who want to impose “market forces” on public schools are imposing the reliance of standardized tests on school boards and, in doing so, are imposing standardized curricula on the schools. Moreover, many of the fundamentalists who are drawn to the notion that “government” is “bad” want to control the material taught in the “government schools”, insisting that religion and patriotism be incorporated in the curriculum at the expense of topics like evolution and global warming.

Here’s hoping those of us who view public education as the last best hope of democracy can change the peg on this discourse and remind voters that they are the government controlling their local schools and the policies set in DC and State capitols.


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