Poor Parents Are Lazy and Shiftless


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In OCPA’s Perspective I respond to unions and their allies in Oklahoma spreading myths about school choice – that it’s costly, unproven, etc.

My personal favorite is the guy who argues choice is bad because poor parents are lazy and shiftless:

Those children blessed with engaged and motivated parents will take their public tax dollars to whatever education venue they choose. The exodus of privileged children from the public school system, particularly in urban areas, will exacerbate the growing gap between the haves and have-nots, and restore an era of separate and unequal schools which will do irreparable harm to our nation.

Any similarity to racial stereotypes is no doubt purely coincidental.

But remember, the fact that the technocrats spent the last ten years working to build a coalition with these kind of people in no way reduces Peter Meyer’s moral authority to lecture Jay Greene about the evils of racism to distract from his inability to respond to Jay’s argument!

13 Responses to Poor Parents Are Lazy and Shiftless

  1. Tunya Audain says:

    Social Policy Analysis Required On NO-CHOICE For Parents

    That was a good reaction to the Oklahoma Education Coalition (OEC) opposition to that state’s embracing of the Education Savings Accounts model. The article — Why Are School Choice Opponents Afraid Of The Facts? By Greg Forster — should help on two fronts.

    One: The Coalition should educate themselves on the critical details of the various education choice models out there.

    Two: The Oklahoma legislature will not be impressed by the caliber of opposition when argumentation is fraught with misconceptions and obvious self-interest.

    On the issue of poor parents making choices, here is probably the best ever quote on that topic from a 2002 interview with Berkeley Law professor emeritus John E. Coons:

    > “There are a lot of benign effects of school choice but, for me, choice is family policy. It is one of the most important things we could possibly do as therapy for the institution of the family, for which we have no substitute. The relationship between the parent and child is very damaged if the parent loses all authority over the child for six hours a day, five days a week, and over the content that is put into the child’s mind.”

    > “What must it be like for people who have raised their children until they’re five years old, and suddenly, in this most important decision about their education, they have no say at all? They’re stripped of their sovereignty over their child.”

    > “And what must it be like for the child who finds that his parents don’t have any power to help him out if he doesn’t like the school? We are always complaining about the lack of responsibility in low-income families. But, the truth is, we have taken the authority away from them in this most important aspect of their child’s life….”

    > “It’s a shame that there are no social science studies on the effect of choicelessness on the family. If you are stripped of power—kept out of the decision-making loop—you are likely to experience degeneration of your own capacity to be effective, because you have nothing to do. If you don’t have any responsibilities, you get flabby. And what we have are flabby families at the bottom end of the income scale.”

    > “Flabby families” is one sure outcome of government monopoly schooling . . . “

    • Greg Forster says:

      Thanks for these kind words – Coons writes a lot of great stuff on choice. As a lefty, he doesn’t just regurgitate talking points about “markets” and “competition,” which are all true but are woefully inadequate to the needs of our moment. Coons thinks about things like families.

      Of course, he also supports technocratic choice regulations, so there’s something to be said for people who like markets and competition too!

    • sstotsky says:

      Gates Foundation needs a lot of help and good advice on how to strengthen families, not choice. How can it be provided?


      • Greg Forster says:

        How can help and good advice be provided to them? Probably not very effectively by anyone from the outside, until they realize they need it.

      • Tunya Audain says:

        The Road to HELL Is Paved With Good Intentions !

        In both instances where the Gates people have apologized for misspent funding it was for efforts that aimed to change whole education systems. Can any organizational behavior experts point to any such successful efforts with such massive external funding and with short turnaround times? Is it even possible?

        Both the small high schools and the evaluating/rewarding good teaching projects have now been deemed failures. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-gates-education-20160601-snap-story.html

        The question that Stotsky keeps repeating, however — in a number of different & persistent forms — remains: What policies would strengthen families and do schools have a role?

        Still stunned by that profound question I’m still hesitant to know where to even begin to delve into this policy challenge, mainly because I’m more used to being an advocate and critic. The only experience I’ve had in the alternatives field is with home education, which has proven it’s place in the family-empowerment arena. The broader, system-wide field, I’m not sure, other than choices, what would work.

  2. sstotsky says:

    Choice regulations are unlikely to address all the ills in our or any society. Here are some rational observations on an irrationally-managed foundation.

    “…The foundation’s lessons learned from this experience did not result in any questioning of their core belief that the answer to building a more equitable society would be found within our public schools. They just shifted their focus to increasing the number of charter schools, creating test-based teacher evaluation systems, improving school and student data management, and setting universal standards through the common core curriculum. Each has struggled, and none appear to have been effective.”

    • Greg Forster says:

      Overconfidence in the capacity of educational institutions to solve all social problems is an enduring American flaw, on both sides of the aisle. Consequence of not understanding the limitations of democracy itself.

      • sstotsky says:

        So where do we go from here? I assume you are not promoting totalitarianism.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Recovering a sense of the limits of democracy is not an invitation to totalitarianism; it is the reverse. It is precisely when we forget the limits of democracy that we make it totalitarian. It is the effort to use schools to solve all social problems, not resistance to that effort, that represents embryonic totalitarianism.

        Where do we go from here? As the Coons remarks reproduced above suggest, we could get far by recovering a sense of the family rather than the democratic/republican state as the primary social locus of child rearing (i.e. education). The limitation of democracy consists in large degree in the inability of the state to replace the family.

        Along another line, we need to step away from narrow, technical definitions of what counts as excellence. Excellence presupposes technical capacity but is not exhausted by it.

        In short, my recommendations are “read Tocqueville” and “read Aristotle.”

    • allen says:

      Whatever choice is unlikely to address it does have one big friend on its side. Darwin.

      Parents, in the vast majority, can’t help but be concerned about their kids. Even pretty awful people, when they have kids, quite often make their kids the exception to their view of humanity in general.

      Parents who were indifferent to the survival of their kids tended to have their contribution removed from the gene pool leaving those who were more concerned. Choice makes use of that natural inclination. The district-based public education system largely ignores it.

      Equally important is that an environment of school choice approximates a free market. Good schools prosper at the expense of bad, or even less good, schools and good teachers, who are necessary to the making of a good school, become a sought-after commodity. Innovations that increase the effectiveness of schools or teachers become valuable and edu-crap, that endless stream of thrilling innovations that emerge from schools of education and inevitably amount to nothing, becomes toxic.

      That’s a good thing, right?

    • sstotsky says:

      How can we recover a sense of family? What policies? Carried out by whom? Anything for schools to do?

      • Greg Forster says:

        Well, that would be enough to fill several books and I can’t do it justice in a blog comment thread! I do write about these things fairly regularly so if you follow JPGB you’ll pick up what I have to say here and there.

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