Commissioner King Versus the Educating Public

Tomorrow at 5pm outside the WNED studios in Buffalo there will be a demonstration opposing the exclusion of the public from New York State Education Commissioner John King’s forum on the Regent’s Reform Agenda and in particular the Common Core regime.

In an email sent out notifying the public of the event, organizer Eric Mihelbergel said: “We have been provided with a sound system and microphone, and we will be allowing people to speak their minds about education. We hope to see you there.” Compare this democratic spirit to the anti-democratic spirit of state authorities. It should be noted that legislators from the New York State Assembly and Senate will be in attendance.[1]

While previous forums have placed numerous limits on public expression, and while they have revealed that John King has no intention of working with the public to sort out the problems associated with the Regents Reform Agenda, educators and parents nonetheless have made it clear that there is broad opposition to high-stakes testing, data sharing and the Common Core in New York State.

Possibly as a result of this broad and growing opposition, a change in approach to defending the Core regime for the New York State Education Department is apparent.

The December 10th forum held in Brooklyn, New York was described as follows by this blogger:

Unlike previous Common Core forums held in New York State, the Brooklyn forum was dominated by Common Core supporters, namely representatives of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst movement, including teachers, and members of Families for Excellent Schools. Former CNN correspondent Campbell Brown, whose husband, Dan Senor, is a board member of StudentsFirstNY, was there as well.

Indeed: “Specials interests descend[ed] on Brooklyn’s Common Core forum.”

These two developments raise an important question: are we at a turning point in the battle between those who wish to renew public education and those who wish to destroy it?

The Public and the Battle for Democracy

The battle for democracy is as varied as it is long. One feature of the battle for democracy is the role of public space, public expression, and public opinion in how society is governed and how government actions are legitimated. It is important to recall that a public independent of royal power, a public that both limits and legitimates authority, is a historical development, and the result of many struggles. This struggle for public right, that began even before the time of Shakespeare, continues today. I think we are at a crucial point in this struggle.

A key premise of this emergent pubic is that members of the public are, for the purposes of discussion and deliberation, equal in status when it comes to determining who can speak. Truth and legitimacy rest not with the social standing of the speaker, but with with the speaker’s argumentation. The parents and educators at these forums have acted in line with this premise of the public and its role in democratic life. John King and Merryl Tisch have acted as those who defended royalty against the march of democracy. As parents argued in Jamestown, King and the State Education department will ultimately lose to the will of the public.

Public Forums Are Means for Public Education

Another key feature of this public is that public deliberation, itself, teaches. It teaches the public not only about the issue of the day, but it also teaches the public about how to advance participation and deliberation about key social issues, what aspects require more discussion, and so on. In other words, public forums are means by which the public comes into being, educates itself, and sustains itself as a social, cultural and political agent through establishing common facts and thinking. Public forums are thus educative: they develop the ability to argue out a view, and they serve to inform the public about an issue, while presuming a hitherto unheard of degree of political equality among participants. Public forums develop and strengthen public conviction. Public forums serve to transform public speech into collective will, what is understood as the common interest or public good. The common or public interest is not worked out alone by political philosophers, but in the public spaces were public deliberation takes place, where all the interests and facts are laid bare, and contradictions sorted out.

What Has the Public Learned from King’s Forums?

One thing is certain: King and those he is aligned with have at present no intention of meeting the demands of the public. Instead of listening to parents and educators, he has chosen instead to limit the public forums further, and openly collaborate with those who have been publicly discredited, such as Michelle Rhee. Thus, while the public forums have proven spaces for the formation of public opinion, they have not as yet served as means for transforming this public will into legal will.

But the question of what has been learned is even larger. What have we learned about parents and educators, and their collective ability to act independent of powerful propaganda disseminated by the likes of corporations operating in more than fifty countries, who now organize Core-like regimes for all countries in the OECD? What have we learned about the fight against disinformation, and the role of public engagement in that fight? What have we learned about alternative sources of information? What have we learned about the source of legitimate authority, the role of direct experience and authoritative knowledge? These questions point to the need in the coming months for public work to sum up the experience over the last two months. These questions point to the need for the public to consciously assess its direct experience as a collective agent representing the interests of families and educators and enlightenment against a narrow politicization of private interests who are now usurping power. This is the high-stakes test of democratic education.


  1. Following King’s lead, the Ken-Ton School Board is blocking any discussion of current education policy that does not align with the State’s view: School Board President Bob Dana “says that he’s concerned about parents discussing views that don’t coincide with district opinions at PTA meetings.” This crack down on the public is part of a much larger trend; see for example these efforts to limit public agency on college campuses in New York.

1 Comment Commissioner King Versus the Educating Public

  1. Dino December 26, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    And we aren’t going back. The investigation and mobilization and activation and taking of stands are infectious. How can we go back to letting state ed or the other interests decide when we, the teachers, parents and youth know better and know that it is better if we decide.

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