As educators, we understand the power of public schools to promote democracy. Universities are essential in preventing democracies from becoming DINOs, and should prioritize educating citizens to become active members of their local, national and global communities. These are the measures that democracy and education experts suggest to ensure that schools play a role in developing citizens. The struggle for women and minorities to gain access to influential institutions has been long and arduous. Decades of litigation were necessary to desegregate the Mississippi higher education system, while high school women fought to attend the Virginia Military Institute and take part in “adverse physical training”.
Civil rights cases have challenged the doctrine of separation in elementary, secondary, graduate and legal education. Recently, Arizona legislators approved an expansion of the voucher system for private schools. However, a book edited by two Arizona State University faculty members emphasizes the importance of preserving taxpayer funding for public education. At the same time, there is pressure from those who advocate for a radical transformation of the country's education system. Charter schools and other voucher schools that claim to be public schools eligible for public funding, but act more like private schools, divert funding from a public education system that is already underfunded.
This is part of a long-term project in several states, including Arizona, to privatize public education. In the summer, an international consortium led by Penn's Netter Center for Community Partnerships organized a global forum in Dublin, Ireland. Participants from 40 countries discussed how higher education can help build a more equitable, sustainable and democratic world. The recent tests of democratic regression in the United States and other established democracies may have been a wake-up call for those who once viewed democratic theory as an abstract concept.