August 9, 2020

What they say, what they choose

Wise people have said for eternity if you want to see what people truly believe watch what they do, not what they say.

In education that means seeing how many advocates of traditional public schools choose selective schools for themselves. They do this while blocking access to to educational options for poor families of color. If there is a better example of hypocrisy it escapes me for now.

A few days ago Derrell Bradford wrote an incredible blog post that shared his experience growing up in the Baltimore neighborhood that is commanding national attention now in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death. I found it deeply moving because it gives rare voice to the reason I am an education activist. Not because I am a privatizer or a destroyer of public education or a hedge funder or a “reformster” or any of the other slights some use to cancel my arguments.

Personal experience matters, perhaps more than academic theory.

When Bradford travels the country extolling the value of educational choice it isn’t an abstract thought exercise. It’s real. School choice helped him and he fights for others to have it too.

He explains the urgency of school choice policy:

In a world of infinite timetables for school improvement that are rarely if ever reached, choice is the most powerful way to create new worlds of possible for kids who are destined to have so little possible for themselves.

When he speaks in this way his actions match his life. He is being consistent with his personal narrative.

The same can’t be said for his trolls.

As an example, the digital ink wasn’t fully dried on his piece when Peter Greene responded with a blog post partially praising Bradford’s status as an articulate black man, while also calling into question Bradford’s ability to reason well.

The post ends with with a uncharacteristically thoughtful note from Greene, saying:

So I’m saying to Derrell Bradford– I find your writing moving, your story moving, your picture of the problem compelling (and I am not using my trademark irony here– I mean it). But I can not for the life of me see how school choice brings us the slightest step closer to a solution, nor in all the reading about choice that I’ve ever done, have I seen a clear and sensible explanation of how this non-solution solution can hope to solve a thing. I’m still listening.

Being a great gentlemen, Bradford kindly responded to Greene for providing a “measured” critique. Were I in possession of a better formal education I might find my inner gentleman too. Alas, I see the tension between Bradford’s and Greene’s world view as a tension between one man’s real life and another’s political self-interest.

But for the grace of God and educational options Bradford could be a negative statistic. At the same time, access to school options like those he enjoyed directly impact the occupational monopolies that are the bread of life for educators like Greene.

These competing interests find it hard to fight to a draw.

What anti-choice unionists choose

The best read I get on Greene’s main argument is that offering school choice to families like Bradford’s helps a fortunate few get into “tony” schools, while robbing the poor schools of the per pupil allocations that travels with students when they leave.

That argument has two inescapable problems.

First, funding doesn’t belong to specific schools, it belongs to each pupil in those schools. Among the greatest inequities in leftist educational thought is caused by assuming per pupil allocations are primarily for the purpose of buildings and staff rather than children and learning.

Second, too often proponents of the above argument don’t allow it to govern how they choose schools themselves. Plainly said, parents with private school educations, or those who have put their own kids into private schools or exclusive public schools, too often argue that the options they have should be blocked for marginalized populations.

That’s just wrong for anyone who cares about achieving a fair society.

For argument, Greene’s own story is as important as Bradford’s. I asked him if by choosing a small private college for himself had he taken funding away from the public colleges, and the students “left behind” in those underfunded public colleges?

His answers were a hot mess intended to disquise how his arguments against K12 choice is inconsistent by his selection of a private college.

Given the opportunity to go to one of America’s strong public college systems in his home state, he opted for an expensive private school that has been described this way:

Nearly 90 percent of the student population is white. Diversity is something that Allegheny students seem to want on campus, yet it is simply not the case. The College is very small and seems to attract mostly well-off Caucasians from Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

As a graduate of a small private college you might think Greene would support every student having the advantages he has had in life.

I won’t pretend the reason for his resistance is mysterious. It would insult your intelligence and mine to pretend ignorance as to why a liberal white educator with a liberal white education would whitesplain away the lived experience of a black education advocate like Bradford. As a conservative Democrat Bradford isn’t fond of “playing the race card.” Looking at the racialized outcomes of these arguments it seems the card plays itself.

Additionally, the two posts, Bradford’s and Green’s, bookend a tragic zero sum.

The bottom line is the actual bottom line. If your mortgage, pension, healthcare, and summer vacations are tied to maintaining a monopoly on public school students you have a vested interest in trapping students in the buildings that benefit you financially.

If you are a unionized public school teacher your economics depend on the absence of choice, not it’s proliferation.

You benefit from educational redlining and there is nothing progressive about that.

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