With the publication of her new book, Learning How to Hope, our colleague Sarah Stitzlein’s timing couldn’t be better. While I suspect that she had no idea of the specifics that would come to define EdChoice legislation when she began writing, her book is an excellent study into what we face and the changes we will have to make to overcome it. She writes about hope as a verb, the purposeful action of people who choose to come together and pursue their common aspirations. She calls it a “pragmatist hope” where people take charge of their hope by building habits that are founded in mutual commitments to inquiry, truth and growth. Then she gives all of that the perfect name — “hoping together.” We all read works of this nature through lenses that focus on our preferences, so her ideas will impress each us in different ways. I encountered my arresting moments when I pondered the contrast she draws between pragmatist hope and privatized hope. Where pragmatist hope is founded in the work that involves people pursuing their common aspirations, privatized hope is the drive to achieve one’s own limited dreams. That difference helps me to understand why some view education as a competitive, zero-sum game, and others see it at its best when it is a community effort. This points to a paradox I think we need to confront. The struggle EdChoice has precipitated is about more than just money (though the amount at stake is huge). It is about how we will exercise our hope in the future. That has a lot to say about the future of public education, whether it is a reflection of a public’s aspirations or just a name. The paradox I see is that we have been drawn into a struggle for the support from citizens, which feeds neatly into the narrative EdChoice advocates promote — it’s all about competition. And yet, if we do not engage in the struggle, we will lose significant financial support. Of course, we must respond to this legislation, but I think that Sarah presents us with an opportunity to think about that response in a way that is more expansive than just winning. The book is replete with ideas and examples of how the habits of hope can become an integral part of the goals for education. These include students, teachers and groups of citizens who work and learn together to make their communities and schools better places. I suspect that the people in these communities would view EdChoice-type legislation as an affront to the community, not just the schools. They would know that what is at stake is more precious than money. It seems to me that those who are actively involved in the everyday habits around the work of hoping together are our best bet for bringing about an ethos that values true public education. The people who want to preserve this aspect of their community life are those who are best suited to effectively confront EdChoice legislation.
By Charlie Irish
Charlie Irish and Sarah Stitzlein are members of the Statewide Leadership Team for the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network.