Working Together To Make Change

Antwan Jefferson, PhD

It’s difficult these days to remember why we pursue, invest in, and rally around public education.
An election is just a few weeks away: that’s important, right? In fact, in a representative government, the role of the school board is to govern the school district on behalf of the public. And we all know what school is:

  • teachers
  • classrooms
  • lunch
  • recess
  • homework
  • tests 

Most of us have been through it, so we may feel pretty confident that we know what school is for. As an educator myself, and as the parent of school-aged children (yes, enrolled in DPS), and as a partner to a DPS educator (Hallett Hawks for Life!) I find that I often take for granted that education is something to value. It does, after all, cost. And we all are expected to do it and to succeed at it. Since, education is one of the few institutions in our society that require participation but cannot guarantee results, it is fraught with economic, social and political differences of opinion.

While we may work to convince ourselves and our children that it’s worth it–the studying, writing, factoring, analyzing, attending class, revising, standing in line, holding on to hugs and bubbles, completing assessments, etc.–the case for formal education is becoming more and more tenuous. College costs continue to rise while graduation rates improve incrementally, a phenomenon that may be reversed by changes in graduation requirements. 

Periodically, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on employment trends, including which sorts of careers require advanced degrees, signaling that the ends justify the means–that years and years in PK-12 school and post-secondary degree programs will lead to careers that make it all worthwhile. And this is largely true, except that there is a harsh lesson to be learned by those students for whom this is not realized. 

Emphasizing employment as the outcome of our region’s public schools seems to miss a mark, one in which a full and true education is about the development of the self; one in which a full and true education leads to a career that represents one’s understanding of the world and their own role in this world. Not as a consumer, but as one who is civically engaged, who wants to pursue an affordable and high-quality advanced degree without relocating across the country; as one who sees education as a route to advance the community, build the city, and lift as many boats as possible. 

At the heart of this issue, and of the Denver Journal of Education and Community at large, is the question of public school’s purpose in the face of rapid city expansion or decline, economic growth and income stagnation, opportunity disparities and de facto segregation. The writers in this issue address such questions, with a more specific focus on examining whose goals and interests should inform public schooling in the region. As you read from educators, families, even a student, I hope that you’ll think about what you expect from public schools in the metro Denver region, and consider what you’ll support or advocate for. As we address here, some clarity about whose voices and interests should inform public education would be helpful. Not all voices ought to matter equally. 

I hope that this issue encourages us to be honest about the irony of the conundrum here. And while this Journal does not take any particular stance on the purpose of school, we do enjoy wrestling with the question itself. Hopefully, you’ll wrestle along with us.

Here is our Fall 2021 issue.