Monday, January 29, 2007

Hey, Democrats!!

One of the biggest things that separate most Southern liberals and Democrats from the opposition is our unwavering commitment to public education. While anti-government forces believe we’d be better off without public schools altogether, we on this side of the aisle always talk about how committed we are to excellence in public education. One of our core values is that education is a shared expense, and that public education is one of the most cost-effective places to allocate our shared resources.

But we’re supposed to be good stewards of those public resources we allocate. We have to get them from the appropriate places and make sure that those dollars are effective when spent, and give taxpayers and property owners an appropriate return on their considerable investment. Otherwise, the already endangered support for public education will erode from the folks who put up the lion’s share of the money.

The movement towards private schools and vouchers and white – flight and home-schooling may have their roots firmly planted in the anti-integration soil of the past 40 years. But as of today that movement has gained most of its ground not from the inherent racism of its birth - as many liberal pundits insinuate - but at the fact that our public schools, especially across the South, are failing to return the proper investment to taxpayers, property owners and parents whose children should be attending those schools. In the case of the anti-public schools movement, what began as an ideological response has morphed into a competency-based response. Ignoring this fact will continue the downward spiral and will lead to the eventual dismantling of the American Public Education system, one of the core institutions of American public society, and what could have and should have been one of the crowning achievements of American liberalism.

As I say often, competency will trump ideology, even if all you hear about is the ideology. People will vote with their feet. One day, we wake up, and the whole public education system is de-funded because another, more competent but more exclusive system will have been built while we argued about who is to blame.

Maybe that is just a natural evolution of public institutions, but I think it would be a step backwards. If it ends up being a better education system, however, so be it. But it deserves our best fight - our best efforts - in defending our vision of American public education so that the choice is not poorly made. The final directional choice should be between two of the best educational models as opposed to grasping at whatever is better, safer, or more effective than our crumbling public institutions.

The future of the Democratic Party, Southern Liberalism, and the American way of life will factor heavily on how education is dealt with in the coming years, as an event horizon is approaching. The choice between public education v. private education will come to a head sooner than many of us on this side of the aisle are willing to think, and the results of that choice will have effects long into the future.

That choice will be made in New Orleans.

Seventeen months post-deluge, the public schools run by the locals and the state are still unable to accept all students and provide basic services for them at the schools. While some problems were to be expected in recovering from the scale of the disasters faced by this area, this is an American city, part of an American state and a piece of this Union. Last time I checked, the United States of America was the greatest, richest, most powerful and most can-do nation ever to exist on the face of this Earth, and the roughly 50% of us who consider ourselves left of center have a core value that says ‘we are all in this together’ and ‘what happens to the least of us happens to the best of us.’

Right now, in addition to those students who already went to parochial school, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has 1,500 public school kids in the system who had no space in the public schools, and made a declaration recently that they are willing to add another 300 students to that number because the need has arisen. Yes, bless whoever made that decision, because when the need arises, there is no greater thing to see than someone or some group stepping up to the plate and saying ‘we got this.’

And, as a Southern liberal and a Democrat, I have no problem with the state legislature sending some cash the Archdiocese’s way to cover some of the expenses. Separation of Church and State be damned, there are several hundred kids who won’t go to school this year if such drastic measures aren’t brought to bear. Yes, I factor in a hierarchy of need into my political and policy thought: it is called common sense.

What chills me is the slow pace of the public schools to recover, and I wonder: with the resources already so slow in coming, with the work so overwhelming, will they ever? Us Democrats and Southern Liberals should see the importance of this recovery for what it is: the line in the sand, the referendum on public schools as a shared American value. Right now, our side is losing this fight in spectacular fashion.

Madame Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Dean, we need that 101st Hour.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wrote so much I made it a post at my blog.

Dante said...

"One of the biggest things that separate most Southern liberals and Democrats from the opposition is our unwavering commitment to public education."

Both sides are big supporters of publicly funded education. Only one side insists that the public funding go to the public school system. The other side doesn't particularly care where the money goes as long as the money spent equals education for students.

"The movement towards private schools and vouchers and white – flight and home-schooling may have their roots firmly planted in the anti-integration soil of the past 40 years."

Private schooling has existed long before public education. How is movement towards private schooling rooted in "anti-integration soil?" The was no integration to be "anti" of when private schools were first formed. And home schooling is very much rooted in the belief that the school classroom paradigm of learning is inherently flawed. I don't agree with that, but that is their opinion and I'm not going to assume home schooling parents are bigots because they would rather take educational matters into their own hands. I'm also not going to assume the same of parents who want to use the money they could be spending on public school in a private school setting, especially under the proposed voucher systems I've seen that only offer vouchers to students in failing public schools. That you've lumped "white-flight" (which is really an economic issue more than a racial one since well-to-do minorities also flee) into the mix really disappoints me here. I'm sure that white flight is a factor in some people's alternative teaching decisions but to assume it is the major cause of that decision is absurd and insulting to those who support alternative educational methods.

And your assertion that competency is being questioned and the voucher system is gaining traction "especially across the South" makes very little sense given that the only public school system in the south that offers vouchers is Florida. The rest of the voucher systems are in the northern mid-west and DC.

You have a very interesting article starting with "That choice will be made in New Orleans." I hate to see it muddled with an intro so filled with inaccuracies and absurdly overreaching conclusions on topics you oppose.

Chris said...

Your paragraphs regarding New Orleans brought to mind a few thoughts:

I'm thinking out loud here, but some factors that are often ignored when comparing public institutions with private entities is the contract process, unionization of labor and the scale of operations.
With many school systems implementing city, county and even regional contracting models, response time has suffered.
A church or foundation might be able to pump cash and resources into a single school at a moment's notice by reaching out across state lines to companies not reliant upon unionized labor. More often than not, public institutions are contractually bound to adhere to vendor, union & contractor schedules. Many of these same contractors are local, and have also been ravaged by the storm. Furthermore, rebuilding 100 classrooms is a far cry from rebuilding 2500.

Question: Should those schools abandon ties with Unions and labor if those institutions are unable to swiftly return them to full operating capacity, or should preexisting relationships be maintained at the risk of delaying reconstruction? Does the "moral" desire to serve the children outweigh all?


(Please note, I'm assuming that labor will operate at it's historically slow pace. I could be wrong, but I'm not.)

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

typAnonymous: I think have moved our conversation over to your blog.

Dante: You said pretty much what DADvocate said and I'll respond in the same way.

While there may have been private schools since the concept of 'education' was invented, I hold the opinion and belief, quite strongly, that many of the private schools, home school movement and vouchers arguments did arise as a way to fight integration. My personal experiences and my personal research into the subject have taught me more than enough to believe this as strongly as I do. Maybe growing up in Texas is a utopia of bliss in comparison, but I've been where I've been, I've seen what I've seen and I've heard what I've heard.

However, (and I said this, too) no matter where they came from fifty to thirty years ago, the private schools, home school movement and vouchers arguers of today are based far less in that ideology, but are rather a response to what parents see as deficiencies of the public school system.

I also suggested that it is fallacy for many liberal pundits to suggest that today's 'school choice' movement are adherents to racist ideology, because that keeps liberals from actually fixing problems in the schools and keeps the focus on the straw man.

IE: if liberals simply write off the motivations of the 'school choice' movement as racist, they are ignoring the problem and thus making it worse.

Also, I do not believe the 'school choice' movement is a big supporter of 'publicly funded education.' I have heard far too many supporters declare that 'since they don't have kids at school, they shouldn't have to pay for schools at all.' I think the end result of the 'school choice' movement will be a step backwards for society, and a complete defunding of public education, the rationale being 'if we eliminate spending on schools, we can lower taxes and give folks more money to send their own kids to school where they want.' While that may sound good, I think it is a horrible idea that will leave many kids behind.

But, also as I said, if we are to have a fight over the hearts and minds on this one, and my side loses, I sure would like to go down swinging. That way the public can look at the 'public schools' vs 'school choice' philosophies as a 'which option is better' rather than a 'which is the less of the two evils?' Too many liberals are caught up arguing about racisim and ideology and not about 'how do we get school books to the school kids in heated classrooms that don't leak with capable teachers present.'

Chris: I think your points on scale (100 classrooms vs 2500) and the contract processes are very well made. I don't think the problem is unionized labor, I think the problem is not being able to contract any labor at all due to red tape in the contract process. As far as 'out of state' is concerned, with this rebuilding, there shouldn't be any out of work contractors within 1000 miles of this place. If there are regulations preventing able folks from working round the clock to get the schools (and this City) back on their feet, then someone running the regulatory committee needs to do a quick priorites check.

Dante said...

"My personal experiences and my personal research into the subject have taught me more than enough to believe this as strongly as I do. Maybe growing up in Texas is a utopia of bliss in comparison, but I've been where I've been, I've seen what I've seen and I've heard what I've heard."

So are you just using anecdotal evidence or does your "personal research" involve any real fact finding missions?

"Also, I do not believe the 'school choice' movement is a big supporter of 'publicly funded education.' I have heard far too many supporters declare that 'since they don't have kids at school, they shouldn't have to pay for schools at all.'"

So you're not in favor of one item because some of the people who support it support another only marginally related item that you oppose? How do you vote for a political candidate? Surely that political candidate might think the same way you do on an issue but differently on a tangental issue. If that's your best defense, you have no real defense at all. Can you even show me a situation where an already existing school voucher program has led to childless tax payers exempting from taxes going towards public education?

"Too many liberals are caught up arguing about racisim and ideology and not about 'how do we get school books to the school kids in heated classrooms that don't leak with capable teachers present.'"

And apparently too many liberals are caught up in opposing the other side just to oppose them and inventing boogeyman reasons for opposing workable solutions.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

So are you just using anecdotal evidence or does your "personal research" involve any real fact finding missions?

I love this argument. If I had quoted studies alone, I'd be nothing more than an 'ivory tower liberal' disconnected from the real world and regurgitating what some liberal professor told me (even though we never officially discussed this topic in any class I was ever in). Because I quote my own experiences, I have no 'fact finding' to back up my own opinions.

Well met, sir. I reckon us stupid liberals just can't win an argument round here, even when our own eyes have seen and our own ears have heard, and our own brains have studied. Private school enrollment boomed after 1954 and lasted primarily to 1980, following wherever the Brown decision was being enforced at the time. I have seen enough evidence in the form of 'anecdotal' conversations and experiences and I have read enough of the Ph.D's who did do fact finding missions that backed up crap I had already seen.

I can't quote the studies, because it was an amalgamation of reading about this over the last 15 years, so I don't bring it up those studies. I'm not the milquetoast liberal who likes to say "statistics tell us this and polls tell us that."

What I can relate to you, however, is the stuff I've already seen, as a primary witness. Some folks probably call that hearsay, though. I guess the bad stuff only happens to us po' folks in South Georgia, and everyone else who shares this opinion of mine across the country just made it up like I did.

So yeah, to you this sounds like a bunch of anecdotal crap, so feel free to disregard any and all other important things that were said elsewhere, and any and all other opinions held by people who disagree. I mean, shucks, folks on my side of the aisle have been acting that way forever.

And, yeah, I'm not in favor of school choice because some of the folks I talk to about it want to get rid of publicly funding schools altogether. Here comes that other side's opinion: I think both the arguments for 'school choice' and 'defunding public education' grow from the same soil on the same row of the same garden. But that's not a boogeyman either, as there are pundits on the right who speak to the merits of both when the topic of education reform rolls around.

You disagree with me about that. Good. You shouldn't worry, because right now, your side is winning the hearts and minds because my side doesn't know how to talk about it or enact effective reforms to make our vision kick your vision's ass.

Thus: the point of my article.

Like I said, maybe this is just the natural evolution of public institutions, and if the public ends up choosing 'school choice' over 'public schools' and it turns out better for society, I'll eat my words. But right now, folks are choosing 'school choice' because 'public education' is becoming a dirty word, not because 'school choice' is so much better than 'public education' properly maintained.

Dante said...

"I love this argument. If I had quoted studies alone, I'd be nothing more than an 'ivory tower liberal' disconnected from the real world and regurgitating what some liberal professor told me (even though we never officially discussed this topic in any class I was ever in). Because I quote my own experiences, I have no 'fact finding' to back up my own opinions."

Maybe to somebody else. Not to me. Research on such matters is important. I'll gladly take your amalgamation of study at face value but it didn't look at first like there was an amalgamation to take at face value. If private school enrollment did indeed skyrocket in tandem with increasing desegregation, then my original assertion could be incorrect.

I may have harshly worded my reply but only to ferret out a decent line of reasoning for what you orginally brush aside as common knowledge in the premise. I thought if you were going to make the argument, the argument deserved a lot more support than you gave it, even if it was only a side note.

"I think both the arguments for 'school choice' and 'defunding public education' grow from the same soil on the same row of the same garden. But that's not a boogeyman either, as there are pundits on the right who speak to the merits of both when the topic of education reform rolls around."

And here the conservatives just can't win. The pundits are off base and don't represent the Democratic Party as a whole according to you but the conservative pundits must be excellent representatives of their movement according to this argument. In the extreme libertatian scenario there would indeed be no public education but that's the extreme view. Most of us don't subscribe to the extremes.* You will find a lot more supporters of school vouchers than you will of public school defunding. That's why school voucher programs actually exist in some states and municipalities while public school defunding does not exist on any level.

"But right now, folks are choosing 'school choice' because 'public education' is becoming a dirty word, not because 'school choice' is so much better than 'public education' properly maintained."

No, school choice is becoming popular because 'private school' > 'public school' in most people's minds and barring some miracle of public education, it will probably remain that way.

* (That does not mean in my opinion there is any such thing as a real centrist. You still pull the lever for somebody.)