Let's celebrate our graduates

In May, another crop of Heights High seniors will collect their diplomas and complete their public-school careers. Watch for those golden “Class of ‘24” balloons decorating graduation parties, and yard signs proclaiming the homes of 2024 graduates.

It’s an exciting moment for the seniors and their families, and it should be for all of us in Cleveland Heights and University Heights. These are our kids, too. We helped make this moment possible, and we welcome our newest voters and citizens.

While they did the work and the learning, we are the ones who benefit. This has always been the thinking behind our system of public education. The public finances a system of common schools so that every person will have access to a quality education—one that unites the diverse members of a community in a common learning opportunity. It’s worth our public investment because all of us benefit when our youth are prepared for adulthood and its responsibilities.

There are big ideas behind our public system: For one, public schools are open to the whole range of the public. It is this uniting of all that makes a public-school education special and powerful. It builds a stronger society along with stronger individuals. A Wisconsin billboard campaign reminds us that public schools unite. Our public investment is an expression of generosity and recognizes that we are all in this together. Strangers make education possible for other people’s kids.

We are in an era of hyper-division, where hostility to difference and disdain for public institutions go hand in hand. The hard right is intent on ending public anything, especially education. They prefer individualism over mutual support or accountability, and the assault is couched in a narrative of public-school failure. It prioritizes individual choice over collective opportunity and demands radical new uses of public funds. Individual success, not collective well-being or any obligation for the welfare of strangers, is the goal.

Privatizers make education a consumer choice rather than a public good. They appeal to private-school parents who resent their tax dollars going to schools they don’t use. It promotes the view that taxpayers are entitled to public funds for private choice, and it puts our public system and the values of mutual responsibility at risk.

Before the privatizers gained power, most parents who chose religious schools understood that their choice was their responsibility and that it did not excuse them from funding the public system. The voucher movement threatens public-school funding by undermining voter support for local tax levies. They advance the idea that private-school parents are owed something and that those parents are not obligated to support a system they don’t use.

Our public-school system is built on generosity and commitment to strangers. It encourages the whole community, whether or not one has children, to have expectations for its young people and to share in creating their success.

In 1989 a dozen community activists met on my deck to create Reaching Heights, a community-based organization to help residents understand that they own the schools, benefit from them and can help them thrive. These ideas now need support more than ever. Reaching Heights (www.reachingheights.org) helps community members connect with teachers, parents and students.

If you know a student or a family with a child who is completing another school year, it’s a perfect time to ask them how it went. Ask them about their favorite teacher, activity, project or friend. Let them know you want them to be excited about learning. It’s great for them and important to you, and it will be key to defining our future.

Susie Kaeser

Susie Kaeser moved to Cleveland Heights in 1979. She is the former director of Reaching Heights, and is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters. A community booster, she is the author of a book about local activism, Resisting Segregation.

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Volume 17, Issue 5, Posted 10:17 AM, 04.29.2024