Not so long ago, school was one of the most predictable aspects of life — like dad jokes and those baby carrots that always show up in school lunches and on buffet tables.
Then came the pandemic. Suddenly, the things we took for granted were gone or changed beyond recognition, causing many of us to step back and take a long look at what they meant to us. School was no exception.
So, why do we go to school? Why does society require it — and pay for it? Whose idea was it anyway? And why should we care?
“American public education was born of fear,” Janet Ward and Elissa Barr write in the history of public education they put together for the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, and that we used to create our new timeline and history in comics.
Fear of what, exactly?
Well, this was back when democracy was brand new. And if rule by the people was going to work, the people — not just elite people, but all people — needed brain power. So basically, public schools were a way of investing in brains.
Over time, schools also became a way of leveling the playing field for young people and then of preparing them for a global economy. And though people have bickered for centuries about how best to run schools and how best to pay for them, the basic concept has endured. More than 95% of New Hampshire children attend public schools, paid for by tax dollars.
As they provide a foundation for democracy, public schools are also the training grounds of democracy, Ward pointed out.
“Public schools have to accept every single one of us, the children of every citizen. Each of those children gets to learn about others who may not reflect everything that is familiar to them,” she said. “You share common experiences, you debate, you get to know those other children as human beings.”