Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling


Education History Review    



Why Public Schools? Whose Public Schools?
What Early Communities Have to Tell Us
by David Mathews
NewSouth Books, 2003
Hardcover, $17.95  ( 232 pages)
ISBN: 1588381102


  In a decade where we have seen families turning to home schooling, private schools, and school vouchers, not to mention the school shootings, we all may be asking the question -- "Why Public Schools?"

Noted educator David Mathews asked the same question, then looked back in time to see when public schools worked and what made them work. He limited his historical study to six Alabama counties -- Clarke, Mobile, Baldwin, Washington, Choctaw and Monroe. This is the area of of Alabama's first community school in Tensaw founded in 1799. The area is also noted for it's literary contribution, including To Kill a Mockingbird, Forrest Gump and Crazy in Alabama.

Mathews shows how communities recognized education as a quality of life variable to attract new settlers. The community was composed of all the citizens, not just those with school-age children. The public was "engaged" in the community school. This is something we have lost as the public is at odds with the current public school system. As public school control became more a part of state and later federal control, the community lost its connection.  The public school became thought of as a public utility, so the community no longer had an active role in its development. In fact, the community felt its input was unwanted.

Why Public Schools? Whose Public Schools? is a 'must read' for everyone in Alabama. Likewise, it should be read by everyone else in America questioning -- why public schools aren't working? The lessons of these six Alabama counties are universal.

"Communities today have everything to do with whether we can maintain our country's tradition of public education. If there are ways to strengthen our schools...then they will be found in our communities because local examples still offer the best models for state and national policy."

David Mathews attended the public schools of Clarke County, Alabama. After graduating from the University of Alabama, where he earned a Ph.D. in American educational history. Mathews has been president of the University of Alabama and secretary of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. He is currently trustee and president of the Kettering Foundation.


Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews


2003, Southern Scribe Reviews, All Rights Reserved