Searching for “Public” in Public Education

Reposted from The Black Resilience in Colorado (BRIC) Fund Blog

The Black Resilience in Colorado (BRIC) Fund Blog features the unique voices and perspectives of people who make up the diverse fabric of the Colorado community who are engaged in Black philanthropy. It’s a platform to share their comments and opinions on how people in the Black community give back, discuss historical and current challenges, and illustrate Black resilience. This month, Antwan Jefferson, an Associate Clinical Professor in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver, discusses his search for “public” in public education.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word public means the community of people in general and or concerning the people as a whole. However, at the heart of this essay is a single question that I have tried to understand throughout my career in education, whether as a high school teacher of English literature and composition or as an education faculty at a public research university in Denver: what does the “public” in public education mean? This question is essential when examining the impact of education practices that don’t concern or consider everyone and the inequities this can produce. In this opinion essay, I explore the question, trying to discover the meaning of

public education as informed by three historical educational periods in the US.

Before I begin, I want to provide a couple of disclosures.

  1. My wife is the principal of Denver Public School’s (DPS) only predominantly Black-enrolled elementary school.

  2. I have two children who are former DPS students: one who is now a student at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA) and one who is a DPS high school freshman.

  3. As an academic faculty member, I have aided in the preparation of educators and education leaders in a professional capacity since 2010.

  4. I am committed to documenting the school experiences of the Denver region’s diverse communities and families and interjecting them into our collective thinking about education policy and practice. The Denver Journal of Education and Community (a program of Education and Community) exists for this specific purpose.

These disclosures represent my experience lens and my vested interest in public education.

Below, I have organized this opinion essay according to three critical historical events. I also suggest that these historical events manifest today with slightly different features. These are ideas that I hope you’ll consider.

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