School Choice and the Fear of “Those People”

walking the line
Rigid, compliant behavior is the main focus of many charter schools in poor neighborhoods. Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

“School Choice” is more about the deep fear of “those people” than proponents will admit. 

“Those people?” They are The They – the ones who you fear will corrupt your children if they sit in the same class with them.

“Those people” are the ones who just can’t wear the same uniform or school colors as your son or daughter, because, well, if they do, they and your kid may start thinking that they are peers.

Can’t have that.

The fuel

Group songs on a charter bus that got two students and the SAE fraternity kicked off the OU Campus are based on the same fear. That offending well-rehearsed, informal song captured on video was revealing of how we train a certain class of youth to think about “those people”.

The song rehearses the idea that we just can’t allow “niggers” to get into our fraternity, folks. Our children might start thinking that black people have a place in our society when we really don’t want them to.

Fear and private schools

That fear of “those people” is a boon to private schools that may not openly try to segregate our youth, but traffic in segregation under the guise of “high standards” or “rigor”.

And having known private school principals and teachers during my career, I can say that they are earnest in their desire for high academic excellence. But, this is not about that.

The urge toward private schooling for the consumer parent is driven by the desire to segregate their children from what they consider to be lesser classes, or corrupt people.

It may not be sinister in a direct kind of way. But more often than not, it really is. It’s based on a deeply dark view that certain classes of people have problems written into their DNA and will never improve, no matter what.

Giving up on whole classes of people

School Choice gives up on the idea that the whole of a public can receive a good education that prepares all of our youth to enter a democracy as thinking, creative participants.

Instead, it relegates the poor to attending rigid training academies that say that they are preparing students to be “college and career ready”, but really are training them for the lowest levels of service jobs or worse.

It assumes that there is a vast sea of “those people” in our society that will never achieve anything more than they already have.

Upper economic classes of parents wonder, sometimes openly, why we should keep trying to educate “those people” in a higher way like they want their children to be educated?

It is highly significant that in places like New Orleans, Detroit, and Newark made up of large numbers of the poor and brown children, charter schools teach in the least creative ways in order to produce the most compliant people.

There is no true effort for creativity when charter districts are educating the poor who have little actual choice when they have limited means of transportation.

It’s all about following a line in the hallway and looking straight forward without talking. It’s shockingly similar to the lines that inmates in prison walk and the behavior rules that they have to follow there.

Giving up on democracy

School Choice gives up on whole classes of “those people” as it gives up on democracy itself.

Isn’t it strange that we seldom hear the word “democracy” from those who are against “the government” and use the word “liberty” instead?

That may be inadvertent for many who populate Tea Party rallies, but it is very intentional on the part of those wealthy individuals in our society who fund those astro-turf groups.

Democracy is messy and draws us closer together as we engage in the process. And so many of us really don’t want that.

Democracy pulls us closer to “those people”, and so some of us try very hard to avoid actual democracy like voting for a school board of a school district that educates all of our children together.

It’s why more and more states are seizing publicly, democratically-controlled districts that are made up mostly of the poor and brown, and turning them over to private companies.

School choice is about escaping, not engaging

“School Choice” is about my ability to choose to get away from “those people” and the messiness of democracy all at the same time.

If we turn parents into shoppers for a product instead of participants in a democracy, then upper economic classes complete the loop of escaping any involvement with people who they don’t like or understand.

And if we allow future generations to grow up in a further segregated society, we will eventually lose a democracy that took over two centuries to build.

In a time where segregation is being further promoted under the guise of school shopping, we should continue to insist upon public schools and the democracy that they promote.