With the passage of yet another Election Day we find ourselves in familiar places discussing what the upset means for the losing parties, and what, if anything, will change when the successors take their place. In many of the local races, mostly notably for the three open seats on the Board of Education, the discussion continues to be quite contentious, based on accusations of allegiances to teachers unions and private interests that lie outside of the district.
It should be noted that these contentions are not a flaw in the democratic process, it’s a feature meant to provide momentum, to get people out to vote on Election Day. The specter of a Communist Union or Greedy Corporations serve to not only motivate us through fear, but to frame the conversation in simple terms that appeal to a wider audience. This simplification reduces fact to fiction, and ultimately erodes any pathways towards a potential solution.
Just over a hundred years ago, Ohio Representatives sought to alleviate some of this contention by making our democratic process more responsive to the needs of the people. With the inclusion of the initiative, the recall, and the referendum into the Ohio Constitution, residents could do more than simply vote in an election once every few years. In essence, voters could propose their own laws, veto existing laws, and even remove their representatives from office.
In the early days of our nation, the majority of Americans received their education at home. Teaching was done by the parents or a private tutor if they were fortunate enough to afford one. The Puritans were the first to identify the need for a public education and established schools across New England. After the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson argued to build an educational system funded by taxpayer dollars, but it wasn’t until 1852 when the first compulsory education laws were passed in Massachusetts, which by 1918 lead to every American child being required to attend public schools.
The responsibility of governing public schools was separated from the city council early on in the history of education. As the demand for public education began to increase, selectmen separated educational governance from city governance and appointed committees in each town to govern local school systems. In 1837, Massachusetts established the first State Board of Education, though the authority remained at the local level as many were distrustful of the state’s ability to represent local interests. The Massachusetts model of governing education spread throughout the colonies and its separation from city council has persisted into the present day.
On the surface this would seem to be an ideal model for many of the challenges we face as a nation (including the compulsory healthcare laws which coincidentally originated in Massachusetts). A National Network of State Boards of Education whose authority rests in the hands of local School Boards elected by the community. But when you dig a little deeper into the disconnect between the city and the schools, you see more than a separation of governance. You see the silos which Lori Kershner identified on her website which calls for “better cooperation between the city and the schools.”