Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mike Thomas' piece in today's Orlando Sentinel does a good job of laying out the severe problem of low income schools' performance gap versus a more affluent median. But the lousiness of the perscription he offers is unbearable because it amounts to suggesting to a battered wife that her husband is just the guy to go to for getting that broken jaw wired up.

The problem he's talking about is a giant problem. No bigger problem out there, in fact. Jonathon Kozol has long since called it the "shame of the nation" . . . Thomas' absurd suggestion is that real answers belong with the conservatives and their charter schools' 'education 2.0'. Bullshit. . Conservatives are, in short, all about money: having it, getting it, keeping it, judging the worth of individuals on their having or not having it, you-bastards-stay-the-hell-away-from-it. One need only look at the recent session of the conservative-dominated FL legislature for evidence that when push ever comes to shove, public education cuts come waaaay ahead of progressive (or even just non-regressive) revenue-raising approaches, like the repeal of Jebbite intangibles tax breaks, say, or similar strategies drawing Rush Limbaughs to our state. And this has everything to do with the kind of education reform Thomas is talking about.
To paraphrase Kanye West, "conservatives--of both parties--don't care about black people". Oversimplification? Not by much. The key component conservatives have over other outside-the-box educators are these: 
deeper pockets and the political pull that comes with it. 

But bringing that up musses up the tidiness of the particular line being put over by Thomas. And it reminds the reader that the same folks who Thomas points to as having the 'answers' are generally the same status quo loving supporters of the problem itself. He talks about uneven starting lines, and the description of the effective fix--beefed up pedagogies, highly trained teachers, intense focus on young children, and loose purse strings--points to precisely what the Reagan-zombies of the GOP base exist to rail against: 'throwing money at the problem' is a critical part of the fix here. We cannot fire our way to effective low income area school systems. Moreover, this is a problem that goes way beyond the school per se, so real fixes, sufficient fixes must also be community based, and involve economic development of the areas these kids' parents live in, and, some of us would argue, a wider re-evaluation of the 'let them eat cake' phony-free market approach to labor markets in this country. 

Shitty school systems and the human tragedies that live beneath the economics-speak of "low human capital", are the products of the free market: this is what the system intends. Conservatism carries a built in pride at not coddling society's 'losers' and in so doing removes any dog it might have in the fight for what becomes of said 'losers'. Except insofar as getting elected is important, and when significant numbers of voters both resemble these 'losers' and are affected by the outcomes of epidemic 'loserdom,' the 'tough titties' routine lacks a certain breadth of appeal that even gerrymandering is ill equipped to contain. At which point enters in the demagogies of religious and racial bigotry that clogs the am radio dial and cable teevee.

How conservatives could be the ones to deliver an answer to this problem--one affecting people who as a rule do not support their flagship party--is a mystery up there with water turning to wine.

And another thing: The parent-child quality time disparity cited at the start of the piece is clearly an area that'd be directly improved by Alan Grayson's paid-time-off legislation, and also by the passage of the things I'd be willing to bet the farm Thomas would wag a damning finger at. Neither law is flawless, but life is about trade offs, and so long as all the negative trade offs in this society get dumped on working people and the working poor, the last thing we'll ever see solved is the education crisis of low-income areas.


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