Examining the politics of public education: Values
Antwan Jefferson, PhD
One of the things that I’ve been particularly curious about since I’ve been involved with Denver education (circa 2002) is what people see when they look at the system of public education in this city. During my years on staff at a local church in Aurora (circa 2005), I also grew interested in this same topic, but in the neighboring city. What is it that people see when they see a public school system? How much of our thinking is about the physical nature of education (i.e., buildings and classrooms and teachers), and how much of it is nostalgic (i.e., our own education experiences, which are likely revised as our lives continue to unfold)? These still are important questions, and likely to be taken up by this Journal in its (hopefully long and successful) future.
For the current, second issue, of the Denver Journal of Education and Community, though, we focus upon a different question, one that is
kin-like with other questions about what people see when they look at the system of public education in Denver and Aurora, a question of values and interests: what are the values (interests) you see represented in public education in the Denver metro area? Asking people throughout the metro area to think about values is certainly important in an era in which a small group of individuals may hope to have outsized influence on schools; one in which outside organizations may hope to influence schools to prepare their workforces. However, this question is important to DJEC for a slightly different reason: we continue to hold fast to the belief in the public aspect of public education, and we want to know if the general public’s perception of values and influence is reflective of their own values.
So, as we will continue to do in creating content for this Journal, we invited a wide range of everyday people (the most important kind) to host conversations in their homes and to sit together with friends, colleagues, family, and neighbors to share a meal and to share their views. The only qualifier for the discussion was the question.
What we learned was fascinating, and it reminds us of a few things about the current context of public education. We learned that while Denver and
Aurora are distinct but neighboring cities, they are perceived to differ in general educational climate and priorities. We learned that some in Denver perceive that their interests and values are subordinated to the interests and values that come with national attention. We learned that parents believe that schools prioritize academic outcomes over their children’s overall well-being and that they sometimes take away from children the opportunities to learn life lessons through making their own choices and mistakes.
What else did we learn? We hope that you’ll read this issue to find out.
Each of the five articles in this issue serves a different purpose, and here’s an overview that we hope will help you understand a publication of this type. The first article is the main story, and it represents the 6 different conversations, which included more than 50 people in Denver and Aurora. Thanks to the thoughtful writing of Allan Tellis, the main article captures the many twists and turns of these discussions, organized to show some topics discussed in nearly all of the conversations and to also highlight some really fascinating outliers. Following this main article is a collection of four responses to it, each written by a different, first-time contributor to the journal. From the perspective of a 25-year career teacher in Aurora, a former DPS student who is now homeschooled, a local non-profit executive director, and an education scholar who grew up in Five Points.
Together, these voices (both the collective and the individual contributors) give all of the content in this issue. We hope that you pick up what we put down and that you’ll join us on this journey.