Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pimping School Choice

I was recently in a discussion slash argument with an official from a large charter school company. He was making the case that the schools of the company were schools of choice and had long waiting lists, ergo they are good schools – otherwise parents would not choose to send their children there. This despite the evidence suggesting the companies’ schools are mediocre at best. There is certainly a simple and elegant logic to that argument which I appreciate. There is another side of course, which overlooks the reality of the options available in the choice.

School choice, from the point of view of a for-profit education salesman, is a simple example of consumer rationality. A family faced with the choice between educational option A and educational option B will simply reveal their preference and select the school that matches their family interests. The extension of that logic, the salesmen would have us believe, is that if you have long waiting lists for your schools, then your schools must be good. Neat, clean and spurious.

From the point of view of education as a public good instrumental in a civil society, there is a different conception of choice. The majority of charter schools in the United States are in communities where the public school systems are poor, dysfunctional and ineffective. Detroit is a prime example. That translates into individual schools that are unsafe, unclean, undesirable dark places that have little to do with education. Of course those communities are highly correlated with populations of the black and brown poor. In many instances the families of these communities are facing educational suicide for their children if they enroll them in their local public school. In states like Georgia where students’ academic performance, on average, ranks 48th among all states, it is clear how bad local public schools can be.

Under these circumstances, parents would choose any school option over the local public school where failure is a near certainty. The salesman’s argument presents a false choice. It suggests that the waiting list for the life raft is because you offered drowning people a good raft. As long as the raft is afloat, people will choose it. The quality of option A is immaterial when certain ignorance and psychological damage is option B. Using the argument of school choice under these circumstances is pimping the concept of choice. Real school choice is when families are choosing between schools of equal caliber and different styles.

This argument allows educational salesmen to pimp choice and use it as a reason to provide poor people mediocre education while profiting from the public trough. Thank goodness for the good, regular public education I got, otherwise I might not be able to recognize the pedagogy of the pimp.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Accused of Being Racist

A white woman recently accused me of being racist. She and I are affiliated with the same school and it was based on our respective approaches to this school that she accused me. It is the first time, at least to my knowledge, I have been accused as such. The dictionary definition of a racist is a person who believes that “race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” She did not confront me directly, so I am not sure which part of this double barreled definition she thinks I embody. Surely she cannot think, that in this day and age, I believe one race is inherently superior to others, so she must think I am guilty of racism definition 1(a).

If I thought that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities I would be trapped in several boxes of futility. My parenting would be in vein. The potential of my daughter would be predetermined. Her blackness would be the determinant of her personal traits and mental and physical capacities. The infrastructure of love and support that my wife and I provide her would be insignificant against of the weight of her black-based capacities. Our love for her, designed to launch her human potential, would be futile.

Another problem I would have as a racist is related to my own identity. There is no doubt that in the American legend, black men are little more than physical species of minimal mental capacity – creatures trapped by our color. As a racist I would have limited identity options. I could believe the color-based definition of myself or I could challenge it and prescribe another color-based set of attributes to black men that suited me better. I am not a physical specie of minimal mental capacity. If I accepted the American legend I would be an anomaly from the definition or somehow not black. If I challenged the American legend, even to prescribe a different color-based set of characteristics, I would have to be reflective. I would have to recognize that the prevailing color-based definition of me as a black man doesn’t fit. The very act of doing that would disqualify me as a racist.

I suspect her accusation was prompted because I am not shy about talking about race. Race is undoubtedly correlated with several social conditions in the United States, particularly in education. The correlation between black men and education is almost universally negative in the U.S. If I were racist I would subscribe to the idea that it is because of our blackness that we are destined to poor academic performance and underachievement. Clearly I do not believe that.

It may be that she is trapped in that box of futility where racism doesn’t offer comprehension of black men who don’t fit the legend. It is a possibility.