Thursday, August 3, 2017

Sarah M. Stitzlein's "American Public Education and the Responsibility of its Citizens"

Sarah M. Stitzlein is Professor of Education and Affiliated Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cincinnati. She earned her bachelor's degree in Philosophy and master's degree in Curriculum & Teacher Leadership from Miami University and earned her doctorate in Philosophy of Education from the University of Illinois. Her primary areas of scholarship are philosophy of education, pragmatism, educational equality, political agency, and education for democracy. Her previous books, Teaching for Dissent: Political Activism and Citizenship Education and Breaking Bad Habits of Race and Gender: Transforming Identity in Schools earned her the American Educational Studies Association Critics Choice Award.

Stitzlein applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, American Public Education and the Responsibility of its Citizens: Supporting Democracy in the Age of Accountability, and reported the following:
Indeed, page 99, gets at the heart of my book and the argument I put forth within it. In fact, it is the place in the book where I lay out one of my most fundamental claims. There, I differentiate accountability—including the blaming of teachers that we’ve heard so much about in recent years—from responsibility. Whereas, accountability is typically a backward-looking determination of whether a person or institution has fulfilled its duties, I explain how responsibility is forward-driven action concerned with the well-being of others. In the context of education, and most notably for teachers, this means care for children. But, in the larger context as democratic citizens, I explain that we also have a role responsibility relative to public schools. “In other words, certain obligations and concerns for consequences result from the nature of being a citizen bound to others in economic, political, social, and normative relationships or through shared experiences and problems” (p. 99). In order to keep democracy strong, we have a responsibility to protect institutions, such as public schools, that facilitate just and equitable opportunities for living good lives amongst our future generations.

This point about our responsibility as citizens is fundamental to my larger claims in this book. While we often hear about the poor performance of students and teachers, the current educational crisis is at heart not about accountability, but rather citizen responsibility. Yet, citizens increasingly do not feel that public schools are our schools, that we have influence over them or responsibility for their outcomes. Citizens have become watchdogs of public institutions largely from the perspective of consumers, without seeing ourselves as citizens who compose the public of public institutions. Accountability becomes more about finding failure and placing blame on our schools and teachers, rather than about taking responsibility as citizens for shaping our expectations of schools, determining the criteria we use to measure their success, or supporting schools in achieving those goals.

This book sheds light on recent shifts in education and citizenship, helping the public to understand not only how schools now work, but also how citizens can take an active role in shaping them. It provides citizens with tools, habits, practices, and knowledge necessary to support schools. It offers a vision of how we can cultivate citizens who will continue to support public schools and thereby keep democracy strong.
Learn more about American Public Education and the Responsibility of its Citizens at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue