Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Conservative Viewpoint
- Education- The Civil Rights Issue Of The 21st Century

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

With “March Madness” upon us, much of the nation’s attention will drift, albeit temporarily, from political combat to the world of college basketball.

Our son, Bobby, is the head men’s basketball coach at Motlow State University, a junior college located in Lynchburg, Tenn. His roster is comprised of stellar athletes, the bulk of whom are blacks from low socio- economic backgrounds. They are recruited in part because they were unable to qualify for admission to Division 1 schools.

Many of these young men arrive with significant academic deficiencies that require remedial study. Most will go to summer school in order to graduate and become eligible for consideration for four-year institutions hoping to recruit them. But at least they’re getting a chance to follow their dreams.

How many inner city young black men and women will have a similar opportunity? Because of our many failing public schools, children are being conditioned to accept failure and poverty as the norm. For black America, education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Ill prepared for life, in many cases these children unwittingly become part of a socio-economic nightmare. Finding a cure for this epidemic may prove to be a catalyst for reducing this nation’s unemployment, crime rate and the continued tragic decay of one’s mind, body and spirit.

Many public schools are not failing because of a lack of money but by who controls the money. Under the Bush administration, there has been a 38 percent increase in overall spending on education. Through the “No Child Left Behind Act” there now must be accountability for student performance. No longer can schools simply push students through who can’t adequately read and write. Yet many of these schools still expect federal money to keep flowing into their coffers regardless of achievement levels not being met. This is one of the reasons Democrats are urging blacks to reject NCLB. They don’t want the scrutiny.

Two facts jump out: the vast majority of inner city schools are failing and those schools are located in areas that have long been controlled by Democrats. The irony of this travesty is that blacks continue to re-elect the very people who are insuring they will never escape the chains of poverty. The Democratic Party of today views minority opportunity as a threat to the power structure they created in the mid-‘60s when most inner city blacks became Democrats.

“Education is the key to freedom,” said Frederick Douglas, an American abolitionist who was the son of a black slave and a white father. Yet with 25 percent of poor blacks living in urban areas and their children trapped in failing public schools, the Democratic Party continues to march in lock step with the National Education association, which opposes school choice and vouchers. The NEA also opposes charter schools.

Charter schools are one option for parents faced with having to send their children to a failing public school. Charter schools are nonsectarian public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. They provide increased opportunity for learning while creating choice, innovation and accountability.

Research in 2005 by Dr. Caroline Hoxby, a Harvard University economics professor, showed that students who attended charter schools in inner cities had test scores that were five percent higher in reading and three percent higher in math compared to local non-charter public schools. In states with stronger charter school laws the results were even more impressive.

Another option would be school vouchers which would cover the cost of a child’s education at a school of the parents choosing that meets pre-specified minimum standards for instruction and accountability.

Well educated blacks and whites tend to have better jobs. They often become active in the political process, own their own homes and businesses and maintain two-parent households. They are less likely to engage in self-destructive behavior like crime, drug abuse and at-risk pre-marital sex. They do not view themselves as victims, a role that especially has been cast upon many blacks and fostered by secularist Democrats who blame the system and racism for their failures.

Having been involved in athletics most of my adult life, I have had the opportunity to work with children and adults of all races, color and creed. I’ve witnessed first hand the difference that a good education can mean to young men and women, who without it may never fully realize their potential.

Parents need to have a choice. They should not be forced to send their children to attend schools that are failing miserably, simply to be sacrificed for a political agenda that is ripe with promise but often short on results. It’s time for black America to demand school choice and vouchers for their children so they may have an equal shot in becoming full participants in the American dream.

The Republican Party supports school choice, school vouchers and charter schools. The Democratic Party does not. African Americans need to decide which political party really has their best interest at heart. By being provided a choice in education many blacks will finally have the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty, despair and government dependence that has been their yoke for decades. May they seize the opportunity.

I recently had the opportunity to have two conversations with a friend who is black. The first was in private. The second was in public. In the fist we talked about how important it was for the black community to embrace “opportunities” that were anathema to the education unions but which would encourage black kids, especially males, to get the education that would allow them to succeed in our work oriented society. He was encouraging and claimed to be supportive. At the next meeting I turned to him for support on a point I made and he was totally hostile. He claimed I was blaming the victim and said “Teachers are doing a good job. We don’t need ‘choice’ like that.”

When I asked him about this privately, he was annoyed that I had asked him to “publicly” support what he privately supports. His claim is that I had not prepared the other people present to understand and support my proposal that Charter Schools would help some children. Until they agreed, he would not “lose their support” by agreeing with me.

I think Bob is right about the need for more options to assure black kids get an education. However I don’t think either Bob or I will get any resonance on this in the African American community. The African American leaders who are listened to have intimidated any who disagree to the point they are afraid to speak out. As a result, nothing will change.

That makes me sad.


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