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My Turn: In defense of the common good



For the Monitor
Saturday, December 02, 2017

The town I live in, Nelson, has a lovely, grassy common. Town commons are a great tradition here in New Hampshire. They’re in our DNA, reflecting the belief that we need to share some crucial resources for the common good and well-being of us all.

Most of us have grown up in an America built on the idea of a “common good” – investing together in those things that make for a healthy society. Public roads. National Parks. Town libraries. Public schools.

We have come to take these things for granted. Not anymore. Right now, our public schools and many other public institutions are under a stealth attack from groups that want to “privatize” what joins us in common. There is abundant evidence that privatization schemes are give-aways to the wealthy.

These groups, many of them funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, want to use private school voucher programs to siphon money from already-needy public schools and to allow public tax money to go to religious schools. Koch-backed groups have spent millions of dollars trying to advance their agenda in a number of states, and families there have fought back. (Recently, voters in one Colorado district tossed out all four Koch-backed members of their local school board.)

Now the Koch brothers have come to New Hampshire. Several of the bills currently floating around the General Court are boilerplate copies of “school choice” and “educational freedom account” ideas developed by Koch-funded groups and rejected in other states.

Public schools are the bedrock of our democracy. They bring children of different backgrounds together and prepare them to live in a diverse, vibrant society. They are the engines of economic growth and a gateway to economic advancement for families.

Our New Hampshire public schools are not perfect by any means. Good schools require community support, dedicated teachers (of which there are many – teachers are the unsung heroes of our society) and adequate funding.

Instead of draining public tax money away from public schools and toward a group of private schools outside of public oversight, we need elected officials who will dedicate themselves to the achievable goal of excellent public schools for all New Hampshire students.

Like other parts of the common good – affordable health care, our beautiful public lands, the right to vote for all – public schools now need us to step up in their defense.

(Sam Osherson of Nelson is a psychologist, author and educator.)