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Blacks Voting for School Choice With Their Feet

by Christopher Chantrill
April 07, 2006 at 11:16 pm

YEAR BY YEAR the education establishment gets bigger and bigger. Year by year the kids seem to learn less and less. And everyone seems to shrug their shoulders as though nothing can be done.

At least people are writing books. Henry T. Edmondson III has written an attack on John Dewey and progressive education in John Dewey & the Decline of American Education: How the Patron Saint of Schools Has Corrupted Teaching and Learning, which seems fair enough. M. D. Aeschliman writes in National Review that

Dewey promoted a futuristic, socialistic idea of “the Great Community,” whose “seer” for him was the polymorphous, promiscuous, egalitarian egotist-aesthete Walt Whitman, who sang both of himself and of future “democratic vistas.” Democracy, Dewey wrote, “is a name for a life of free and enriching communion,” and this mystical-pantheistic idea had its institutional vehicle in the “child-centered” school.

The trouble is that the child-centered school may be a dandy idea for the children of upper middle-class progressives, preparing them to a life of creativity and peace studies. But it also denies poor children an education in literacy and numeracy.

And now the poor, particularly the black poor, are starting to vote against Dewey-inspired education with their feet. Writes Michael Strong in TCSDaily, “While pundits and academics argue away, the quiet sucking sound you don't yet hear are African-American families leaving our public schools when allowed to do so.”

In Minneapolis, public school officials now admit that black flight is a serious problem; the district enrollment is projected to be down to 33,000, from 48,000 in 2000, a 30% decrease, largely due to black students escaping to charter schools. The Washington D.C. school district has lost 10,000 students in five years; 25% of D.C. students are now enrolled in charter schools. A Rand Corporation study of charter schools in Texas and California discovered that in both states black students are significantly more likely to move to charter schools than are white students.

This is profoundly encouraging news. It means that the movement begun by Polly Williams of Milwaukee is gathering momentum. It was back in 1990 that she began her campaign to bring school choice to Milwaukee’s black community, and she was opposed every step of the way by white liberals. When they saw, finally, that they couldn’t stop some sort of school choice plan they countered Williams’ plan with a fake one.

This fake choice plan was the product of a white, do-good liberal legislator named Barbara Nostein. Liberals backed her; they weren't for my bill. We finally won when we got 200 parents to testify for three hours in favor of my bill. In good conscience, my colleagues could not vote against those parents.

The common-sense interpretation of the data on school choice is that parents, especially minority parents, want it. In a democracy, the people rule, right? So why are progressives standing in the school house door preventing people of color from getting the kind of education they want for their children?

The answer is simple. The progressives want their “child-centered” education not because they are advocates for the poor but because they are advocates for themselves. They want progressive education to make the United States into a progressive society, just like Dewey did a century ago.

What the people want has nothing to do with it.

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Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.


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©2007 Christopher Chantrill