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There Were No Good Old Days, but There Are Good Old Ideas

Derek W. BlackDerek Black J.D., a law professor at the University of South Carolina, is among the nation’s foremost experts in education law and policy. He’s published extensively in prestigious journals and been cited by the Supreme Court of the United States. In his book, Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, Black explored the legal and historical basis for the right to public education.

According to Black, the inspiration for Schoolhouse Burning came from the teacher strikes in 2018. Seeing tens of thousands of teachers expressing their right to peacefully protest compelled him to “pay homage to all that [educators] are bringing to the American public.” It is with this spirit that he addressed the attendees at AACTE’s Opening Session at it 2022 Annual Meeting.

The guiding question behind Professor Black’s book is simple: are we moving closer to the original vision of public education, or further away from it? That is, his book chronicled the fight for public education. Using historical and legal precedents such as the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, The Colored Peoples Convention in Charleston in 1865, and the Brown V. Board of Education decision, Black explained why the state must provide education as a democratic necessity, and how formerly enslaved African Americans were among the key figures in the fight for educational equality for all.

Black noted that the current push to privatize education through vouchers, school choice, and charter schools began with segregationists acting in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. Such educational trends, Black argued, represent a retreat from the intended purpose of public education in the United States.

Supporting his argument, he discussed the stagnation of teacher wages since the late 2000s and the decline in per pupil spending in the majority of states and compared this to the increases in private school tuition during that time. Simultaneously, the devaluation of public educators resulted in many states altering or eliminating teacher tenure and developing cursory teacher evaluation systems.

Black noted that states with a larger proportion of minoritized students have double the rate of privatization. Additionally, districts with the largest per-pupil funding deficits are located in areas with greater privatization. In other words, increasing privatization directly hurts public school funding and the students they serve, many of whom are unable to afford private education.

Black ended his session with a call to action. “Though our public education is under attack, it will not fall on my watch, it will not fall on your watch, but we must rise to fight for it.”

His call to rethink, reshape, reimagine, and revolutionize the education profession is therefore not novel. It is, rather, a refined iteration of the original intention of public education, buttressed by the 14th amendment, the Brown V. Board decision, and “all of our highest aspirations.”

A video recording of this AACTE 2021 Opening Keynote session is available to Annual Meeting attendees at aacteconnect.org. Additional video recordings, including the Closing Keynote session and Deeper Dives from the 74th Annual Meeting may be accessed on Connect360.

Christopher M. Claude is a doctoral candidate at George Mason University. Supported by the OSEP-funded grant, Policy and Research-Intensive Special Educators (PRISE), his research interests pertain to reducing the shortage of special educators and leveraging the principles of improvement science to do so where possible. 


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