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About 4,000 unsolicited manuscripts have landed on my desk since becoming editor of Kappan in July 2008 — and I’ve read every one of them.

I’ve also selected and edited about 1,700 articles written by roughly 2,500 authors. I’ve written 78 Editor’s Notes and 16 other bylined articles in Kappan. And — here’s a really big number — I’ve edited and proofed 6,320 pages for 79 issues of the magazine.

Whew. It’s no wonder that I’m ready to move on.

After nearly 10 years as editor of Kappan, I’m ready to explore new horizons. That will include managing the PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. I have already been doing this work for PDK, but now I will no longer have to divide my time between the magazine and the poll.

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I have loved many parts of the magazine work — but not all of them. Reading hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts every year has been far more difficult than I ever imagined. Having to reject more manuscripts than I can accept is just plain hard. Some of them, of course, deserve to be rejected. But many are on the bubble, and making those judgment calls is always tough.

On the flip side, however, is that I have loved discovering the unexpected gems among those hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts. How could I ever have known about the power of
hmm . . ., as Jeremy Glazer writes about in this month’s Kappan? If we had not opened the door to any and all, we might not have received Jung-ah Choi’s manuscript about how an immigrant parent perceives parent-teacher conferences. We might never have received manuscripts from Jack Schneider, Jon Eckert, or any of the other young scholars who have become some of my favorite contributors to Kappan. I have loved making those finds, and I’ll miss the chance to make those discoveries anew.

The left behinds

One of the manuscripts that I wish I could have rejected is the one that describes the unraveling of the American public education system.

Segregation seems to be the newest trend in our schools — not just segregation between races, which is bad enough, but segregation between people who have differing views of the world.

I fear that by promoting charter schools and choice, we have encouraged and actually developed a dual system of education in this country. Support for charter schools has given permission to groups to separate themselves from the mainstream. Don’t like what’s going in your local school? You don’t have to stick around and try to improve things. Just take this public money, and go start your own school. Don’t like scientific facts? No worries. Create your own school that specializes in alternative facts (known in some corridors as fiction).

The public school system used to stitch us together as a single people. By busting up the public schools, we are turning our backs on a core American value: the insistence that we are stronger when we come together. To invest in a multiplicity of so-called choices in a fundamental institution like public education is to endorse a belief that we are better off in our silos.

When we break apart the public schools, we really are breaking apart this country at a time when we desperately need spaces where we can get to know each other and become one America again.
The manuscript about public education has to be rewritten. I may no longer be editor-in-chief of the leading education journal in this country, but I will still be a citizen. And I won’t be standing on the sidelines. Shifting my energy to the PDK poll gives me an opportunity to ensure that we ask Americans what they value about education and to make sure their voices are heard by policy makers at all levels.

I doubt that anything will shake my belief that schools have the power to transform, not just individual lives but the trajectory of a country. I do not expect to abandon my conviction that we should do all that we can to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality education every hour of every day.

So I may be moving on, but I am not checking out. — JR

Related: Kappan’s new editorial team

Originally published in February 2018 Phi Delta Kappan 99 (5), 4. © 2018 Phi Delta Kappa International. All rights reserved.