"Any weakening of universal public education can only be a weakening of the long-standing essential role universal public education plays in making a civilized society."

John Ralston Saul
Charter for Public
Education, 2002

Dr. Michael Zlotnik has spent most of his life thinking, writing and advocating for a strong public education system. He was deeply involved in process that led to the creation of the Charter for Public Education — and he went on to serve as that organization's president for several years. I feel privileged to count him as a mentor and friend. The following essay grew out of a conversation between us — and I am thrilled that he was willing to share it here, too!


By Dr. Michael Zlotnik, • First Posted Here: Spring 2010

I was recently challenged to imagine what I would do if given the power to change JUST ONE THING about today's schools.  At one level, it seems like an almost impossible task — yet I agreed to have a go!


To begin with, it must be understood that there are all sorts of connections between all levels of education and the profound issues we are all facing as human beings on planet earth.

For this reason, there are quite a number of changes I would like to make — each of which would be beneficial! Nearly all schools would be better if there was more money to support the school in teaching and learning. Similarly, our schools would be better if poverty, inadequate nutrition, economic insecurity and violence in the communities around them were overcome. Moreover, I cannot ignore the influence of the mass media: our children and schools would richly benefit if the media were more responsible in programming and safeguarding children from corrupting advertising and entertainment.

The way I see it, our whole culture is bedevilled by short-term thinking and incentives. If you look at the recent, massive failures of financial institutions and banks, you see organizations led by brilliant, apparently well-educated people failing in spectacular fashion — with devastating consequences for vast numbers of people all over the world. Incentives , performance bonuses and assessment of performance in these institutions were focused on results measured quarterly or annually. It led to short-term thinking, risky actions, irresponsibility and unethical behaviour. For this reason, l believe that our schools must be shielded from this corporate, bottom line mentality. It is TOTALLY inappropriate in the realm of teaching and learning!