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School's Out

A knot of parents and teachers--some clutching children, others clutching protest fliers--huddled outside Hostos Community College one frosty evening last February. The forty or so Bronx residents had crisscrossed the borough for the rare chance to mix it up with the New York City schools chancellor in a public forum.

Thomas Sobol, the former New York State education commissioner, believes the battle lines have been drawn between democracy and corporatization. "The arrogance, my God, of saying because we know how to run Kmart, we know how to educate children," said Sobol, professor emeritus at Columbia University's Teachers College. "It represents a giant defeat of democracy."

Statistical disputes aside, the basic disagreement is over what constitutes an educated child. Is it someone who can demonstrate "grains" of isolated skills or someone who has the capacity to think and explore with a sense of wonder and depth? So far, the grains have the upper hand. "This administration is preparing children to do these small tasks, stripping education down to its parched bones," said Tom Sobol. "The soul of education is left at the door."

This article appeared in the June 21, 2007 edition of the Nation.

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