Academics Are The Less Visible Enemy of School Choice

Conservative discourse mainly features teachers' unions as the enemy when it comes to school choice, leaving others, like sociologists and other tenured intellectuals, free from public accountability as they exert their substantial influence on education policy. One thing that you should know if you follow school choice issues is that for leftist academics who oppose school choice, their dogmas take primacy over empirical evidence, and their most fundamental dogma when it comes to school choice is that it promotes racial segregation, and thus thwarts their version of equality. Racial segregation, as a policy in the United States, saw its end as an achievement of the Civil Rights movement. The Left's cynical appropriation of “racial segregation” is a red herring intended to obscure their true aim of preventing freedom of association and unregulated innovation and to provide a check on the ambitions of the middle class. 

Freely associating peoples, the bane of centralized administrators, spearheaded the school-choice movement with great success and public demand. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “Despite this growth, there is still an overwhelming unmet parental demand for quality school options, with more than 1 million student names on charter school waiting lists.” The education of children is a matter of urgency, not of experimental manipulation. Tanzi West of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) shared at the Amplify Choice event I attended this month at the Franklin Center: “We believe there is an educational crisis in this country, and nowhere is it more profound than with black children.” It is hard to believe that anyone could prioritize long-game social engineering schemes over the immediate life prospects of children who they repeatedly acknowledge as vulnerable, but it is exactly what is happening. As Thomas Sowell says, "Charter schools take power from politicians and bureaucrats, letting parents decide where their children will go to school. That is obviously offensive to those on the Left, who think that our betters should be making our decisions for us." 

Leftist academics are concerned with keeping the “correct” concentrations of races in the public school system, more than they are concerned with protecting the rights of families to send their children to better schools. “White flight” from places like Detroit subvert the Left’s racial composition goals, which are exemplified in such policies as racial enrollment requirements taking precedence over academic performance requirements at magnet schools. Likewise, minority families who seek to give their children better opportunities by enrolling them in charter schools -- which happen to enroll more students of color and from low-income backgrounds -- are “problematic” in their disruption of the Left's race-based allocation of children to schools. These academics resent the fact of self-interest in human decision-making, resent the middle class succeeding, and resent minority families for rejecting their designs in favor of making their own decisions about what is best for their families. Children in failing schools need a decent education -- as Thomas Sowell says, “their one shot at a decent life” -- more than they need ambiguous “diversity.” Jason L. Riley writes at length of the frustration of black families with leftist social architects in his must-read book, Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed.

If this sounds unbelievable, let me supply you with quotes from a few academic texts on school choice, which reflect mainstream opinions within education academia. Indeed, the book School Choice: The Moral Debate and the article, “Introduction: The Great School Choice Debate” are collections of academic literature that have thematic political similarities. Here are the leftists in their own words, arguing that the purpose of education should be political correctness, not education, and in a veiled way, that control of minority students’ districting are a pawn in their achievement of this. One must be alert to code words in this so-called discourse; they include:

Translation Guide
1. “Pluralism” to mean the doctrine of collectivist multiculturalism (not classically liberal pluralism)

2. “Equity” meaning an acceptable distribution of opportunity, which is understood as a function of race, isolated from other variables like effective school leadership or individual gumption and dynamicism

3. “Lacking economic advantages” meaning being classified as an ethnic minority

4. “Good Americans” meaning politically correct (and thus submissive) Americans

5. “Democratic” means a system of theoretically equal power and material distribution that is enforced by the state, either through force or through subterfuge

From School Choice: The Moral Debate, edited by Alan Wolfe, current Professor of Political Science, Boston College, Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life. Published by Princeton University Press, 2002.

“The consequences of the school choice movement for educational equity are uncertain. Central office authorities and zoned attendance areas are losing influence in determining which children end up in which schools; the influence of parents’ individual choices is growing. The theoretical and polemic literature is abundant, some of it… contending that school choice exacerbates existing social-class segregation in school systems and thus is a movement that should be resisted.”

“Schools in America have understood their mission less as the transmission of timeless wisdom and more as the means by which those lacking economic advantages could raise themselves up, through schooling, in ways that would enable them to pass on those advantages to their children. There long existed a group of educators who emphasized the need for schools to introduce students to the life of the mind. But such critics… became forgotten voices as a consensus formed among professional educators… to promote practical advantages over intellectual discipline…  schools too often fail to achieve the objective of promoting equality… but reinforce instead the inequalities of capitalism.”

“[Critics carried] forward the consensus around the notion that the purpose of education ought to be one of furthering the goal of equality… vouchers represented one mechanism among many that middle-class Americans often use to avoid their obligations to the poor.”

From a "Review of School Choice: The Moral Debate", by Susan A. Dumais. Published by Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 33 (No. 6), pp-723-724, in 2004.

“A second theme [of the moral debate for school choice] centers around the purpose of public education in a democratic society, and whether it involves training children to become active citizens, whether it is important to expose students to diversity (as discussed by Levinson and Levinson), or whether the obligation is simply to provide a good education for all children (as discussed by Macedo).”

Introduction: The Great School Choice Debate, by Francis C. Fowler. Published by The Clearing House, Vol. 76 (No. 1), pp. 4-7, in 2002.

““[Opponents of school choice are] mostly, but not entirely, political liberals—[who] usually argue against it because they fear that it will increase segregation by race and social class while transforming the public school system into a dumping ground for the students who are the most difficult to educate.”

“Far from being fair and democratic, [school choice] permits some parents to choose their children’s schools with relative ease while for others such choices are prohibitively expensive… [Joseph Viteritti] asks the question of how we can justify allowing middle- and upper-class parents to choose schooling for their children without extending the same right to those who lack economic means.” 

Quoting Lee, Croninger, and Smith (1996): ““How did the many Detroits of our nation develop the disastrous environments that they currently offer families? One by one, families left the cities… But other residents were unable to leave… [school] choice bears an unsettling resemblance to the very social, economic and political processes that created the problems of urban education.” 

“…The question remains: Will school choice further fragment an already badly fragmented population, thereby encouraging even worse conflicts along the fault lines of race, class and religion that run through American society?”
Translation: We are upset at the prospect of people freely associating without our influence.

“School choice is going to continue to expand whether we like it or not. Parents like the idea of being able to select their children’s schools, and public support for the idea has grown enormously over the last decade or so.”

Translation: We don’t like the fact that school choice is expanding, but we are going to have to deal with it.

The resentment in these passages towards parents who seek to exercise their free agency to do what is best for their children is almost palpable. The bratty indignation of a question that translates in "normal speak" to, "How can we justify allowing parents to choose school for their children when others may not be able to or may not want to," would be comical if it weren't so angry and serious -- and if these academics weren’t actively exerting their power on policy. School choice prevents these people from having full control of the variables in their social experiment -- American children -- and we must be vigilant in defending it. To this end, conservatives must never take our eyes off of the academics, sociologists and educational theorists who overlook the truth-seeking and dignity of human beings and thwart their flourishing in favor of social control.