“Personal responsibility is a difficult thing to ask for in a nation which has attempted to find a societal ‘root cause’ for all things.” – Shapley R. Hunter
In Seattle, a group of white parents are suing the local school board because their children were denied admission to a predominantly white school. The reason: The school was trying to achieve “racial integration.”
But the school district was implementing the policy because it had been sued a few years ago by another group of white parents – those who wanted quotas to be used because they felt it would be beneficial. A look at the school district’s admission policies by The Wall Street Journal revealed that the school has been jumping over and back over the integration rule in reaction to threats by affluent white parents.
The same thing, apparently, is going on in Louisville, KY and elsewhere around the country.
That doesn’t surprise me. People will generally push to satisfy their personal agendas. But most people – including educated, affluent white parents – flip-flop on complicated issues, because the causes and the effects are not well known.
The Seattle case is going all the way up to the Supreme Court. Will that resolve it?
Almost certainly not. History tells us that situations change but people don’t. How school integration looks in your school district will change as demographics, policies, and practices change – even if the underlying regulations stay the same. On an individual basis, people’s perspectives on school segregation can change depending on what happens to their own children. The Seattle battle began that way.
This is the problem with trying to solve big, social problems in big, governmental ways. The solutions are almost always at least partially ineffective and temporary. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t work for political change – but it does suggest that the practical person will look for personal ways to deal with his personal situation.
In this case, for instance: What is the personal way to deal with the problem of having your kids excluded from a presumably better, white-majority school in your local neighborhood?
How about taking personal responsibility for the quality of your kids’ education? How about seeing this as an opportunity to get more involved with their curriculum, to spend time tutoring them (or hire someone to help them), to be stricter with them about the time they spend studying? What’s wrong with that?
Is it unfair because that should be the state’s job?
Nowhere in the Constitution is there the guarantee of a good education. We have come to believe that we have such a right in America, because we believe that educated people generally make better citizens (although I’m not sure there is any evidence of that). But the history of public education in the U.S. is the history of going from good to bad, and then from bad to terrible.
How terrible is it? Well, despite the fact that spending on all elementary and secondary education nationwide was more than $500 billion during the 2003-2004 school year – one of the highest expenditures for education in the world (according to the National Center for Education Statistics) – American students are not performing at the same level as many of their peers in other countries.
In the last TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) survey completed in 2003, U.S. eighth graders ranked 15th out of 45 countries in mathematics. They did a little better in science, ranking 9th.
Closer to the home front, graduation rates indicate another problem area. According to data from the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Education Statistics, our high school graduation rate in 2005 was 68.3 percent. That boils down to a little less than one-third of U.S. students leaving high school without a diploma.
And the cost of dropping out is high. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a high-school dropout has an annual salary of only $23,400 as a full-time worker.
There shouldn’t be any debate about it. We all want our children to be better educated, but our efforts to teach them in public schools have failed miserably.
Still, most people don’t want to give up. “If we just had more minority teachers … or better computers … or less English literature and more Spanish …” We keep tinkering with the machine, but the machine is spitting out ignoramuses.
As a parent who loves your children, you don’t have to fix the public school system in order to give them a good education. All you need to do is invest more of your own time and money in achieving this very worthwhile goal.
Repeat after me: “My children are my responsibility. If I want them to have a good education, I must be in charge of that education. I must do what I must – which always means caring, but also devoting time or money or both – to give them the education that I want for them. I will not expect my school district to do this job for me. I won’t wait for my school district to find a solution. I will handle the job myself. Starting immediately.”
Good news for people who worry: Just about every political problem has a personal solution. If you are willing to accept the responsibility to feed and clothe and educate yourself and your family, 90 percent of the world’s problems will become secondary issues for you.[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]