Stop the Slander of Inner-City Parents

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A few years ago I wrote an article for this journal urging school choice. Afterward, I received a number of arguments against it — bad arguments. One of these was what I termed the “incompetent parent argument,” which is the one you often hear from the defenders of the present public school system (that is, from greedy rentseekers who benefit from the system, because they are employed by it). The argument is this: school choice will fail because inner-city parents are too ignorant and indifferent to make wise choices about their kids’ education.

This claim is usually proffered sotto voce, since inner-city parents are often members of ethnic minorities. The argument can be accused of having a racist cast, yet the people who offer it are typically politically correct progressive liberals who love accusing the rest of us of racial insensitivity.

But to return to the argument itself. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal exhibits the ultimate refutation of this rubbish. It reports the dramatic swelling of a “crime wave” of inner-city parents who lie about their home address on school applications. Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) recently had to grant clemency to a poor black mother who had dared — dared!! — to use her father’s home address to get her two daughters into a decent school.

For this act of vicious criminality, she was charged with grand theft. After being incarcerated for nine days, she was convicted on two felony counts. If they had remained on her record they would have ruined her chances of getting a teacher’s certificate and becoming a teacher herself.

The lady is not alone. Not hardly. In several states, desperate parents — you know, the inferior inner-city parents who are genetically incapable of the same love for their children that tenured white teachers can feel — have been arrested for trying to do what she did, and are facing jail time or other punishment. School districts around the country are hiring detectives to follow children and see whether they really live where they say they do. Some districts are even using “address-verification” programs to halt the abominable crime of finding a decent education for your kids. One of these programs, VerifyResidence.com, uses “covert video technology” to find the pernicious perps.

Minority parents must care a lot about choosing good schools for their kids, if so many are risking prison for the chance to do so. And of course, these people are hardly criminals. As the article suggests, we can view them as practicing a form of nonviolent protest to achieve their civil rights, in the honorable tradition of Martin Luther King.

A couple of months ago, more evidence that parents are not indifferent but are in fact committed to finding good schools came to light. It was an internal teachers’ union PowerPoint presentation boasting about how the union (the notorious American Federation of Teachers) thwarted parents’ groups in Connecticut from passing a “parent-trigger law” that would have forced a change in administration of any failing school if the majority of the district’s parents voted for the change. If the parents had been as indifferent as rumored, would the union have gone to such Machiavellian means to screw them?




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Comments

Federal Farmer

As a public school teacher and a libertariain, I enjoy calling myself a "practicing socialist, believing capitalist". I am not a spy infiltrating the system, as Ron Swanson declares himself in the Parks and Recreation TV series. It just so happened that I was introduced to Ron Paul, Ayn Rand, and this very magazine on the shelves of a local Borders while I was in my third year of college.

It is my first year teaching (I will add that I teach government and world history) and I have noticed that there are many conservative teachers in my district. Or, at least, teachers who hold a great many views that border on the conservative/libertarain position. Still, I am in rural district in Ohio.

Many of them will agree on school-choice, merit pay, and ending seniority. But what irritates the all of them, and especially the conservatives, is that education will remain a centralized, big-government instuttion with all of these new ideas.

For example, merit pay is a part of Ohio's SB 5. Great idea. Problem: the Ohio Department of Education will now dictate how schools set up their merit pay programs and will provide the funding for it.

In another example, standards-based education is a wonderful idea. Problem: the federal and state governments decide our standards and how they will be tested.

Libertarians/Conservatives can garner support from public school teachers on these issues if they would advocate that local districts be in charge of standards, pay, and so on... If our states are teh laboratories of democracy, our local school districts should pose as the laboratories of education.

Gary Jason

Thanks for your input.

I couldn't agree more with what you say. That is why I would like to completely voucherize the public schools, and eliminate school districts altogether--freeing up the money wasted in needless, redundant administration,and so on-- freeing those resources to reward better teachers, pay math teachers with actual math degrees more, and so on.

We could then have what they have in Chile: chains of private schools that specialize in particular areas (like science, performing arts, college prep, or military/law enforcement training).

Rodney Choate

I NEVER see the point I"m going to make put forth in the discussion of "school choice", and my making it will likely be considered a pox. Technically, it's off topic, but I've got to take my opportunities where I can.

I can see why all kinds of parents of public school children would LOVE to take advantage of "school choice" programs. As championed, MOST schemes propose to continue to tax childless people to pay for public schools to educate other people's children, while giving some kind of rebate for parents who take children out of public schools. This is an immediate double taxation on childless people, and gives the impression to the dumb-massess that it is another acceptable scheme for government. And the amount of money involved is not insignificant. I have no use for people who opine on this subject without at least promoting school choice as an INTERIM measure until getting the government out of the education business. Failure to promote it as an interim measure just gives almost all readers the impression that its OK as a permanent fixture of society. Far from it.

This is not any attack on Mr. Jason directly; like I said, I'm off topic here. But I just don't think that the issue I've raised here should be kept silent when promoting school choice ideas.

Thanks

Gary Jason

Mr. Choate, thank you for your comment. I actually address your point on page 1 of my article of a few years back. Here is a direct link to the piece:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7651/is_200812/ai_n32307113/?tag=content;col1

As I noted in my article back then, even if you are childless and a pure egoist, you would still want children to be generally educated, because it results in a more prosperous community, resulting in less likelihood that the uneducated spawn of others will criminally attack you, or by going to prision or getting on relief and costing you money. Of course, if you are not egoist, it is even more clear why you should support the general education of the citizenry.

Anyway, the horse left the barn ages ago: our taxes are used to educate all kids, and that is not likely to change anytime soon, so we may as well support a proposal that will make those tax dollars accomplish what they are intended to do.

Brian

Now wait a second, Mr. Jason. Didn't you just write that parents care about their childrens' education? Or is it that parents only care about their childrens' education when someone else is helping them pay for it?

Visitor

I'm not surprised that the schools blame the parents. But where did they get their education? From the very schools that are blaming them!

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