Public Intellectuals? Try Public Students Instead.

Schools must aspire to be more than just dispersing knowledge to the willing. Reducing education to a commodified exchange is one of the lowest common denominators in human existence. It makes educators and students powerless to affect change in their learning, let alone the world. Everyone involved becomes incapable of acting in democratic relationships.  

My work focused on schools is an attempt to address the discrepancies facing the larger roles of young people throughout society. Disenfranchised from social purpose beyond schooling, I strive to reinforce the notion of young peoples’ public personhood and existence beyond the crass economic subjugation that motivated the identification of “youthhood” originally.

In the same way we honor public intellectuals such as “Barbara Ehrenreich to Tom Wolfe to Samuel Huntington” and my own mentor Henry Giroux, I want to heighten the role of the public student. This modern learner is the engine of democracy, fueling all other social, cultural, spiritual, educational, and economic developments throughout society.

Without the specific role of student, democracy would simply fail. Today’s neoliberal education policy would reduce the role of student to that of consumer and product as well, and oftentimes denies their roles as producer and engine. This occurs not only in classrooms, but also in school offices, school boardrooms, and education administration offices.

That said, in a society that systematically segregates young people from adults, I think its important to acknowledge the unique role that only children and youth occupy, which is that of K-12 student. In our modern social construct, that has been the only place in society specifically designed for children and youth, and the role of student is the only formal role for them. 

In reality, today that place and role are being claimed by economic imperialists who believe schools only need to serve the capitalist hegemony, rather than the larger democratic good. Students are innately attuned to this discrepancy of purpose too. Over several decades they have come to see their role in school as that of prisoner. This is reinforced by succeeding generations of parents, teachers, administrators, voters, and politicians.
I want to reframe the place of schooling in society so that it’s seen as the right that it is, as the powerhouse of democracy, and as the hope for the future that it is and should be.

Acknowledging the distinct identity of students is vital to integrating them throughout the education system that serves them, which is the purpose of my work in schools. That identity is one as the public student. 

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at

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