Public Education and Democracy

"Public education isn't important because it serves the public, it is important because it creates the public." – Neil Postman, former chairman, Department of Culture and Communication, New York University

"Public schools must be understood as public not simply because they serve the public, but because they establish us as a public.” – Benjamin Barber, professor of Civil Society, University of Maryland


FACT: The public believes that public schools are critical to democracy.

In an August 2004 AASA poll (PowerPoint, Members Only), the public was asked: "There are two important tasks in public schools today – developing better citizens and improving achievement. If you had to prioritize, which would you say is more critical to the future of the country – developing better citizens or improving achievement?"

The public responded as follows:

  • 58 percent responded that they would choose developing better citizens
  • 36 percent chose improving student achievement
  • 4 percent said both equally

In an August 2003 AASA poll (PowerPoint, Members Only), 95 percent of the public agreed (79 percent of them strongly agreed) with the statement: “We need to stand up for public education to make sure that public schools continue to fill their role as a cornerstone of the common good, providing the foundation for the civic society that is critical to our democracy.”


FACT: Increasing globalization makes the civic mission of schools more urgent than ever.

"In the past century, the civic mission of schools, at its best, was an enlightened, openended, and thought-provoking education for democracy in a sovereign state, such as the United States of America, France, Japan, or India. The purpose was induction of each new generation into the democratic culture of a particular society and country in order to maintain the political and civic order or to improve it on its own terms. In this century, by contrast with the past, we may reasonably speculate that education for citizenship in a democracy will, with each decade, become everywhere more global, international, and comparative in curricular content and processes of teaching and learning."
- John J. Patrick, Teaching Democracy Globally, Internationally, and Comparatively:
The 21st-Century Civic Mission of Schools
, Center for Civic Education, May 24, 2003


FACT: Getting children ready for democracy embraces the notion that to thrive this nation must have

  • citizens committed to the ideals of democracy,
  • citizens committed to the work of the democracy,
  • citizens equipped to operate in a democracy, and
  • citizens who can find common ground in their differences and respect where common ground is absent.

AASA believes that public schools belong to the public. It pays for them. According to AASA Executive Director Paul Houston, “We know that people see education in a broad way. They want to see kids do well on basic skills, but they also need to do well in areas that are basic to living — being good citizens, productive members of the community and able to find and hold down a job that allows them to live in America.”



Citizenship, Democracy and Public Schools - AASA website with information on working collaboratively to prepare students for democracy.

Taking the Public Out of Education, Benjamin Barber, The School Administrator, May 2004

The Apprenticeship of Liberty: Schools for Democracy, Benjamin Barber, The School Administrator, May 1998