Kevin Shaw was not happy when he was told by a school administrator to stop distributing pocket Constitutions outside the campus free speech zone or risk being led out. So, he sued, and won.
On December 12, 2018, the Los Angeles Community College District Board agreed to open the main areas of Los Angeles Pierce College to student expression, revoke a district-wide policy that declared all property on its nine campuses to be “non-public forums,” and pay $225,000 in attorneys’ fees.
The LACCD’s actions did not come about as a result of their suddenly being “woke” to the fact that ensuring free exchange of ideas should be a principal function of an educational institution, judging by an announcement on the LACCD’s website,
In settling the lawsuit, the LACCD agreed to make the designated free speech zone at Pierce College much larger and to make sure all of the nine colleges have similar processes to allow student free speech activities.
No, the LACCD’s actions were the result of a lawsuit that Judge Otis Wright of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California refused to dismiss. The lawsuit moving forward, media picking up the story, and Jeff Sessions (in the days he was still U.S. Attorney General) filing a Statement of Interest in the case put the LACCD in a precarious condition worthy of a fast retreat.
The lawsuit in question is Shaw v. Burke (the Burke party refers to Kathleen F. Burke, then president of Pierce College). In November 2016, Kevin Shaw, a member of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and student at Pierce College, was distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution outside of the college’s tiny free speech zone (the campus occupies 426 acres, and the free speech zone was 616 square feet). A college administrator warned him that he needed to file a “free-speech permit” and restrict his activities to the college’s free speech zone, or be asked to leave the campus.
In March 2017, Shaw filed the law suit with the sponsorship of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). In January 2018, Judge Wright rejected a motion by Pierce College for dismissal of the case. On December 12, 2018, the Los Angeles Community College District settled.
In light of the District’s attitude towards free speech, the $225,000 in taxpayer money the LACCD paid as attorneys’ fees as part of the settlement was probably the best use of taxes the college made in a while.
The Victory in Shaw vs. Burke is Only a Beginning
Judge Otis Wright’s Order rejecting Pierce’s motion for dismissal of the case lists the strengths and weaknesses of Shaw’s complaint and of Pierce’s response based on prior cases. As a result, the Order denies Pierce’s motion to dismiss the case and grants an injunction in LACCD’s practice of approving (or denying) permits, but cites prior decisions that say exercising one’s First Amendment rights in areas where one is disrupting foot traffic or otherwise interfering with the activities of others is not permissible.
Therefore, the LACCD can say it has made the free speech zones on campuses “much larger,” as opposed to it has eliminated them. But who decides how large such zones need to be, and based on what criteria?
Maybe the next step is for liberty-leaning individuals and/or groups to file lawsuits in an attempt to overturn court decisions that allow for restraints by government agencies imposed prior to a free speech event. Actually obstructing traffic, interfering with other people’s activities, disrupting the main purpose of education facilities – learning, or engaging in any kind of violence should be the reason for restrictive responses, not the prospect of someone stepping outside a designated zone!
The Bigger Picture
Shaw vs. Burke was filed in the state of California, where the populous coastal cities are epicenters of progressive politics, political correctness, safe spaces, and the “Resistance.” It would not be far-fetched, therefore, to surmise that folks living in these epicenters would prefer restrictive speech rater than open discussion that might disturb the accepted wisdom.
John Stuart Mill, in his epic tome On Freedom, goes beyond laws and formal bills of rights, and observes that government’s restriction of free exchange of ideas is unacceptable, even when done with the full consent and agreement of the populace.
Let us suppose, therefore, that the government is entirely at one with the people, and never thinks of exerting any power of coercion unless in agreement with what it conceives to be their voice. But I deny the right of the people to exercise such coercion, either by themselves or by their government. The power itself is illegitimate. The best government has no more title to it than the worst.
[T]he peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error. John Stuart Mill, On Freedom, Chapter II: Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.
Liberty-leaning folks will not even need to read the 23 pages of proposals; they will only need to read the word “regulation” on the title of a paper dealing with platforms on which people express their thoughts, political leanings, religious beliefs, or business strategies.
Were Senator Warner’s white paper an isolated case of regulating free expression, there would be less cause for concern that is warranted in the wake of other legislation curbing the actions of websites, social media, bloggers, and others who express themselves on-line. This Just Vote No Blog recently wrote about California Senate Bill 1424 which aims to establish a Social Media Advisory Group “to study the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms, and draft a model strategic plan for Internet-based social media platforms to use to mitigate this problem.” Will your blog or post be declared “false information” because the powers that be did not like what you said?
The words “regulation” and “Internet” should not even be in the same sentence, since proposals such as these can only bring unfortunate consequences to our freedoms, as well as to our economic well being.
Find a Crisis and Exploit It
Kaiser Industries built a lot of roads and homes in California. Its pink cement-mixing trucks painted with the slogan “Find a Need and Fill It” were part of the state’s lore. Those were the 1950s, when industrialist/innovator Henry Kaiser found a need for homes, roads and factories, and filled that need by building them – with government’s blessings.
Today, it seems the dominant slogan is not the entrepreneurs’ find a need and fill it, but government’s find a crisis and exploit it. Instead of letting industrialists and innovators like Henry Kaiser produce the goods and services consumers want, government focuses on finding crises (or manufacturing them) and using these crises to tie the hands of producers and expand its reach.
Senator Warner’s 20 proposals to regulate the Internet serve as examples. Here is an excerpt from his white paper:
In the course of investigating Russia’s unprecedented interference in the 2016 election, the extent to which many technologies have been exploited – and their providers caught repeatedly flat-footed – has been unmistakable. More than illuminating the capacity of these technologies to be exploited by bad actors, the revelations of the last year have revealed the dark underbelly of the entire ecosystem. The speed with which these products have grown and come to dominated nearly every aspect of our social, political and economic lives has in many ways obscured the shortcomings of their creators in anticipating the harmful effects of their use. Government has failed to adapt and has been incapable or unwilling to adequately address the impacts of these trends on privacy, competition, and public discourse.
Before we even examine the 20 proposals, we might note the arrogance contained in the paragraph above:
* “Unprecedented interference in the 2016 election?” Hardly. Interference in the form of influence, spying and other strategies has happened several times in the past. A famous example of interference is Britain’s campaign to discredit Charles Lindbergh, leader of the “America First” movement of the 1940s, in an attempt to obtain military help from the U.S. in WWII.
* “Dark underbelly?” Perhaps Senator Warner could consider focusing on draining some swamps in Washington DC, rather than worry about Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook having a dark underbelly.
* “Anticipating harmful effects?” How good has been government in anticipating the harmful effects of its policies? How is the good old War on Drugs working for you and your family, especially if you happen to live in a poor neighborhood?
* “Government has failed to adapt” is always Newspeak for not yet passing more and more laws.
As noted in Senator Warner’s introduction to his proposals quoted above, the proposals purport to protect consumers and defend “our Democratic Institutions.” However, all “protection,” whether from government, the Mafia, or from zealous family members comes at a price. The price consumers must pay if they accept the “security” offered by proposals such as that of Senator Warner is loss of liberty. To protect one’s liberty one must make the effort to remain informed and exercise critical thinking. We must understand the products and services we use, and choose them wisely. We must not depend on “protectors” who most likely have their own agenda. This Just Vote No Blog wrote about that on our post Smart Cities – Your Life in a Fish Bowl.
Highlights of the 20 Proposals
These are what this Just Vote No Blog considers highlights of the 20 Proposals:
* Determine origins of posts and/or accounts to prevent bad actors from assuming false identities and influencing political debate.
* Identify inauthentic accounts to prevent spread of disinformation that pose a threat to our democratic process and undermine the integrity of digital markets.
* Make platforms liable for state-law torts (defamation, false light, public disclosure of private facts) for failure to take down deep fake or other manipulated audio/video content.
* Propose legislation that guarantees that platforms above a certain size provide independent, public interest researchers with access to anonymized activity data in order to measure and audit social trends on platforms that could help inform action by regulators in Congress.
* Require disclosures for online political advertisements in order to prevent targeted political ads sponsored by foreign advertisers. Require that platforms make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political ads.
* Establish a Public Initiative for Media Literacy funded by the federal government and primarily administered by state and local educational institutions. Building media literacy from an early age would help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy.
* Deem as information fiduciaries certain types of online service providers – including search engines, social networks, ISPs, and cloud computing providers – because of the extent of user dependence on them, as well as the extent to which they are entrusted with sensitive information.
* Endow the FTC with privacy rule making authority, so as to enable it to respond to changes in technology and business practices, as well as increase its funding.
* Adopt GDPR-like legislation. One major tenant of the GDPR (that the US could or could not adopt) is the potential of high penalties for non-compliance in which a company or organization can be fined.
* Determine that dark patters — user interfaces that have been intentionally designed to sway users towards taking actions they would otherwise not take under effective, informed consent — are unfair and deceptive trade practices. To address this, FTC could be given rule-making authority to ensure that the law keeps pace with business practices.
* Set mandatory federal standards for platform algorithms to be auditable, so that outputs of algorithms are evaluated for efficacy/fairness and potential hidden bias.
* Pass a bill requiring data transparency, such that free platforms provide users with an annual estimate of what their data was worth to the platform, which would provide significant price transparency, educate consumers on the true value of their data, and potentially attracting new competitors. Data transparency would also assist antitrust enforcement agencies like the FTC and DOJ.
* Pass legislation that could define thresholds such as user base size, market share, or level of dependence of wider ecosystems, beyond which certain core functions/platforms/apps would constitute essential facilities, requiring a platform to provide third party access on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms and prevent platforms from engaging in self-dealing or preferential conduct.
Senator Warner’s 20 Proposals to Regulate the Internet might bring to mind prescription drug ads and their interminable laundry list of side effects. Have all the regulations imposed on drug companies prompted patients to consume less drugs or become more aware of side effects such as addictions? Have all the regulations lowered drug prices? Senator Warner’s 20 Proposals would most likely have the same result as the required listing of side effects.
However, more serious than ineffectiveness are the consequences. The proposals listed above lean towards the following outcomes:
* On-line social media platforms that host content, such as Facebook or Google Plus, will become liable for what is posted. This liability will transform social media’s function, increase the costs of operating a platform, discourage new entrants due to high costs and the threat of liability, subject platforms to the whims of powers that be bent on surpresing opposition, and is open ended. Will liability apply to content management systems such as WordPress or Joomla? Will e-mail clients such as Thunderbird or Apple Mail be liable for the content of e-newsletters, meeting announcements, or communication between group members?
* One of the proposals is the establishment of a Public Initiative for Media Literacy, funded by the federal government and primarily administered by state and local educational institutions, to build media literacy from an early age that would “help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy.” Perhaps the real concern here should be the manipulation of our children’s minds? How about just teaching our kids to think critically instead?
* Mandatory standards for auditable platform algorithms sounds more like killing the golden goose of innovative proprietary code than protecting consumers or defending our Democratic institutions. How far will “auditable” go? How can proprietary code be proprietary when it in essence becomes open source?
* One of the 20 Proposals is to declare the Internet an essential facility. We as a People need to decide what we want the Internet to be: 1) a host for information of all types, ideas, random thoughts, beliefs, as well as a leveler of playing fields where a user with little financial wherewithal can start a future multi-billion dollar company from his/her dorm room; or 2) do we want the Internet to be just another regulated utility.
* Lastly, Senator Warner seems to think his 20 Proposals will improve competition by tying the hands of the big social media companies and supposedly facilitating new entrants. Here are three points to consider:
Successful people make it big by aspiring to be big. They do not enter a market that highly regulates bigness just because they are little, since they do not intend to remain little.
Successful people do not need government legislation, rather they avail themselves of government policies. For example, when government (because of its gargantuan national debt) keeps interest rates ridiculously low, smart people borrow loads of money, offer stockholders of competitors good prices, and sail into near-monopoly positions.
Remember WordPerfect and Quatro Pro, or MySpace? These guys dominated the word processing, spreadsheet, and social media markets respectively. But then came Word Office Suite and Facebook. So, big companies can be replaced by smarter and nimbler ones.
As the Wall Street Journal says in its article Warner’s Plan to Ruin the Internet,
“Mr. Warner has flexed his congressional muscles and made a point. Now he can go away.” We concur.
When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.‘ Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
We All Do It
We all manipulate words to explain, to persuade, to deceive, to modify the behavior of others. When a Mommy says “Yummmm….carrots” to her baby, she is doing all of the above. It is unlikely that she believes unseasoned mushed carrots are yummy, but she manipulates words and changes behavior in order that her child will eat. Mommy’s success is aided by her child’s innocence and gullibility.
The same principle holds true for politicians, be they benevolent or tyrant, wishing to perpetrate an agenda upon a gullible populace.
…the story is told from the perspective of the common animals as a whole. Gullible, loyal, and hardworking, these animals give Orwell a chance to sketch how situations of oppression arise not only from the motives and tactics of the oppressors but also from the naïveté of the oppressed, who are not necessarily in a position to be better educated or informed. Animal Farm by George Orwell
So true, except for the part about the gullible not being in a position to be better educated or informed. Some of our nation’s most willing receivers and spreaders of manipulated speech reside in our universities.
The university is a vast public utility which turns out future workers in today’s vineyard, the military-industrial complex. They’ve got to be processed in the most efficient way to see to it that they have the fewest dissenting opinions, that they have just those characteristics which are wholly incompatible with being an intellectual.Mario Savio, founder of the Free Speech Movement at U.C. Berkeley.
Besides politicians and our supposed intellectual elite, special interests ranging from the nation’s war industry to compassionate advocates of all sorts are also receivers and spreaders of manipulated speech. The manipulated speech becomes part of mainstream vocabulary.
* “Racist” has become a catch-all description of anyone who disagrees with any prevailing agenda. Don’t want to spend taxpayer money on removing statues from parks? You are a “racist.” Want your children’s school to focus on reading, writing and computing? You are a “racist.”
Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president, argued in a fiery speech Thursday to 1,400 union members that school-choice programs such as vouchers and tuition tax credits are rooted in segregation and racism. The Washington Times, July 21, 2017.
* “Immigrant” now describes those who arrived in the U.S. via formal immigration or refugee channels and those who simply crossed borders.
Between May 7 and June 20, the Trump administration instructed U.S. Customs and Border Protection to place any adult immigrants who crossed the border illegally in federal custody.Merriam-Webster, word example.
Fundraising efforts are going on around the country to support organizations that are working to protect immigrants and bring families back together.Merriam-Webster, word example.
* “Abortion” has disappeared from public discourse, and has been replaced by the cryptic codes “A woman’s right to choose,” or “reproductive control.”
The emphasis must be not on the right to abortion but on the right to privacy and reproductive control.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
(Perhaps the emphasis should be on the fact that men cannot develop preeclampsia or hemorrhage during pregnancy or childbirth.)
* “Liberal” has been replaced by “progressive.” Democrats no longer call themselves “liberal.” Maybe because the new focus is on changing the structure of society rather than on making what we have better.
It seems to me that traditional ‘liberals’ in our current parlance are those who focus on using taxpayer money to help better society. A ‘progressive’ are those who focus on using government power to make large institutions play by a set of rules. David Sirota, Political Commentator
From Manipulating Words to Manipulating Events
It is only a short hop between manipulating words and manipulating events in order to achieve a desired outcome. California is particularly good at speaking eloquently of a multitude of crises that demand intervention, compassion, fortitude, resistance, and/or money. Climate change and sanctuary, along with housing and homelessness, are at the top of the state’s crisis list.
* California Greening
California takes pride in its draconian efforts to lower green house gas emissions by declaring vast areas of the state protected land where no development is allowed, passing legislation that requires cities and counties to build their “fair-share” of dense housing, and discouraging the use of private automobiles. California also has a “cap and trade” program, under which companies pay penalties if they exceed pollution limits, but can trade for pollution credits with companies that emit less pollutants.
Whether California’s Herculean efforts to reduce emissions arise primarily from environmental or economic concerns remains a secret locked in legislators’ minds. The fact remains that dense populations, where businesses and housing are clustered into tight spaces drive economic growth, and cap-and-trade-produces revenue for the state.
As an aside, California’s greening comes with costs that event manipulators don’t like to talk about. Density has caused construction and housing costs to skyrocket, the middle class to flee the state, and legislators to embark on a constant quest for funds to build subsidized housing. Cap and trade, touted as a way to help poorer communities disproportionately affected by pollution, has instead given the more polluting industries located in such communities the ability to pollute even more.
* Prisons and Private Profit
In a video op-ed that appeared on MSN.com on June 25, 2018, U.C. Berkeley Professor Robert Reich spoke, eloquently as always, of private contractors that run detention centers “profiting from family separation.” In the video, Reich condemns the “money, influence and cruelty” behind Donald Trump’s border policy that enriches these private contractors.
Nowhere in the video does Robert Reich mention that private contractors have been part of the U.S.’s detention system since the 1980s, profiting substantially from the U.S.’s vast native and immigrant prison population.
In response to the broader prison overcrowding that accompanied the rise of mass incarceration during the 1980s and 1990s, several states entered arrangements with private companies for their ability to build prisons quickly—and without the need for voter approval … The private prison industry has long considered immigration detention an opportunity for gain. In 1984, CoreCivic established its first privately owned detention facility in Houston to hold immigration detainees.Migrationpolicy.org
The Imaginative Progressive Mind
Although manipulation of words and events is done by just about everyone, those who hold today’s progressive ideas of what government and society should look like seem to be infinitely more imaginative than conservatives.
The laundry list of words progressives have succeeded in embedding into the public conscience is impressive: equity, social justice, sustainable/unsustainable, capitalist greed, global warming/climate change, diversity, child-free, entitlements, renter’s rights, food security, body shaming, living Constitution, fair share, regional governments.
Along with words come world views of how things should be!
Parents have a lot on their plate these days, especially in expensive states like California, where stay-at-home Moms are a luxury rather than a norm. Thank goodness, there is a lot of information on the Internet on choosing schools, parenting, balancing time, etc. For example, two popular websites that rate schools from great to not so good are Great Schools and Niche.
The economic challenges parents face in costly California are compounded by another California feature: awful public schools. An article published in February 2018 in USA Today lays out the sobering statistics:
California Public Schools rank 35th among the 50 states.
High school graduation rate: 83.0% (21st lowest)
Public school spending: $9,417 per pupil (8th lowest)
8th grade NAEP proficiency: 27.1% (math) 28.4% (reading)
Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32.9% (14th highest)
Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 51.7% (21st highest)
Such schools are far from being the “great equalizers” envisioned by educator Horace Mann. They are in fact unequalizeers, in their pursuit of identity politics instead of teaching reading, writing, math, and history. Are school districts focusing on finding ways to improve these schools? Read More.
The City & County of San Francisco adequately reflects Sacramento’s inept approach to governing: tax and spend as much as possible on ineffectual projects. The City’s Board of Education operates on the same principle. Here are some quotes.
George Washington High School, in San Francisco’s Richmond District, is among the public schools in The City that bears the name of a historical figure with a questionable legacy. Photo caption. S.F. Examiner, May 14, 2018.
This discussion of changing names of public institutions and taking down public statues, particularly ones that serve to honor the Confederacy, has become more prominent across the country, especially with the rise of white supremacists who have been given implicit and explicit permission to come out in the open to display their bigotry by our so-called president. Opinion piece by by Stevon Cook and Mark Sanchez, S.F. Examiner, May 14, 2018.
The San Francisco Board of Education is at present considering a blue-ribbon panel composed of historians and other luminaries to review all San Francisco government schools that bear names declared inappropriate. For example, George Washington High School will be considered for a name change, since an old white slave owner simply does not fit into San Francisco Values.
Right about now, George Orwell is saying I told you so, and reminding us that, “Who controls the past controls the future, and who controls the present controls the past.”
Available information does not specify whether these blue-ribbon panelists will receive taxpayer-funded stipends or expense reimbursements; although the panelists will certainly place taxpayers on the hook for the considerable costs of changing the schools’ name signs, letter heads, forms, documents, websites, email addresses, and whatever else bears old names.
Distract When You Cannot Deliver
We need to place the School Board’s resolution in context. California government schools are at the bottom of the national rankings. The ability to read proficiently is a key element in an individual’s ability to lead a self-directed life. Yet only 32% of 8th grade California students read at or above proficiency level. Given such an abysmal score, why are any resources spent on changing names of schools and not on finding new and more efficient ways of teaching children to read?
The school name change effort, like the statue demolition or the focus on movements, serves the system well. While parents and voters are embroiled in discussions about how horrible George Washington was, they are not paying attention to the fact their kids can’t read proficiently.
Although parental involvement in California government schools is not outstanding, the system has succeeded in distracting parents that do get involved. For example, Brea Olinda parents have become distressed about the name of one of their schools, William E. Fanning Elementary School, saying Mr. Fanning represents a racist past. All this angst in spite of the Brea Historical Society’s curator reporting that “the case for saying Fanning was a Klan member is flimsy at best.”
Scapegoating the Poor and the Immigrants
California government school bureaucrats are quick to excuse themselves from their responsibility of delivering proper education by quoting the high percentage of lower-income and non-English speaking students in the government school system. So, are these bureaucrats saying that lower-income and non-English speakers are less able to learn than other students? If so, that is unfortunate.
The nation’s Founding Fathers encouraged awareness and learning as means of preserving the Republic. That is, a Republic depends on its residents’ ability to remain self-sufficient, so that government remains within the boundaries prescribed by its Constitution. The Founders’ vision of education was further expanded by Horace Mann, who said,
Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men — the balance wheel of the social machinery.
Mann visualized the child of more affluent parents and the child of working-class parents coming into a class-blind arena, where he would be motivated to learn the skills necessary to achieve his chosen goal. Whether the child chose to be a scientist or an artisan, educators would support the child’s inclinations. Mann went as far as to say that such widespread education targeted to each child’s strength would erase poverty.
… the sufficiency, comfort, competence, of every individual, in regard to food, raiment, and shelter. And these necessaries and conveniences of life should be obtained by each individual for himself, or by each family for themselves, rather than accepted from the hand of charity, or extorted by poor-laws.
California government schools not only fail to teach children to read proficiently, but also blame the children for it. What to do?
Ella T. v. State of California
Two well-established law firms, Public Counsel and Morrison & Foerster, filed Ella T. v. State of California in Los Angeles Superior Court on December 5, 2017. The case, brought under the California Constitution, claims the right of all students to access literacy and receive schooling equal to that of other students in the State of California. The lawsuit demands that schools adopt the following:
* Evidence-based literacy instruction at the elementary and secondary level.
* A stable, supported, and appropriately trained teaching staff.
* Opportunities for parents and families to engage in students’ literacy education.
* School conditions that promote readiness for learning.
A hearing date is scheduled for later in May, 2018.
People come in different shapes, sizes, and types. Therefore, to place a group of children in a confined space and expect them to follow the space’s strict rules borders on insanity. Yet, traditional government schools do just that. However, they offer and allow some choices within the otherwise rigid setting.
* Charter Schools:
Publicly funded, but have more control over academic achievement and school management than traditional government schools.
California allows for ways that parents can teach their children at home: through an existing private school, through a public charter or independent study program, and in many instances by opening their own private home based school.
* Language Immersion:
Designed for children whose primary language is English, these schools teach all or most subjects in another language.
* Magnet Schools:
Specialize in specific subjects, such as art or science, and children need to prove their inclination towards those subjects.
* Public Montessori
Associated with the American Montessori Society, these schools follow the Montessori “child-centric” method, which assumes all children are curious and will learn if their curiosity is property encouraged.
Kids Cannot Fight on Their Own
Little kids learning the basics of reading, writing, and math cannot fight for their rights to be taught by competent and caring educators. Kids need grownups in their lives to fight for them. Not an easy feat when parents must work two jobs to make ends meet, or one parent is the sole breadwinner. Being involved is a difficult but crucial balancing act.
In the old days employers asked employees to keep job description manuals, so new employees and others in the office or shop could better understand how a task was performed or how a widget was made. Today employers focus on diversity and social justice manuals. Should this shift of emphasis from production and performance to personnel be included in statistics measuring GDP, national debt as percentage of GDP, balance of trade, decline of manufacturing, rise of an unskilled workforce, automation? Has the constant talk of diversity integrated our schools, or equalized pay, or flooded Silicon Valley with high-level coders of both genders equally?
If the response is “not really” then our doubling down on the diversity reasoning is innocently stupid, immensely hopeful, or intentionally evil. The quest for diversity permeates housing, employment and education. Although there is much to say on housing and employment, let’s start with this article on education, specifically school choice in New York City.
Our analysis shows that the expansion of school choice in New York City in the past 10 years has, indeed, allowed thousands of children to leave low-performing schools for higher-performing schools, often outside their neighborhoods. But it has also resulted in higher concentrations of poverty and shrinking enrollments and budgets in the schools they leave behind, making it ever harder for those schools to serve their neighborhoods well.
The logic of choice can be used for segregation or integration. But in either case, it puts the onus on individual parents to find good schools for their children, rather than on society as a whole to provide for the education of all children. Correcting the disparities across the school system as a whole and providing equitable educational opportunity to all families should be a collective effort by all members of the community with strong central leadership from City Hall and the Department of Education.
A reasonable person should ask what is wrong with parents taking responsibility for finding good schools for their children. The legion of lower-income parents enrolling their kids in charter schools might wonder why any parent would not move their children out of poor-performing schools. True, newly arrived immigrants, speaking little or no English, would have a harder time navigating through the complex school-enrollment system; but hopefully these families anticipate such difficulties, persist, and eventually prevail.
Embedded in the lament for the consequences of school choice is the pervasive emphasis on diversity and government’s duty to ensure equity and social justice. Such focus obscures the success of parents and children who opt for production – performance, individual responsibility, effort, and hard work. There are such parents at all income levels and of all colors.
Who Leaves and Who Stays
The Paradox of School Choice discusses what families stay in their zoned school, and which do not. 60% of families in gentrifying neighborhoods choose kindergarten outside of their school zones, compared with 32% in higher-income neighborhoods (where schools tend to be higher-performing), and 35% in non-gentrifying poorer neighborhoods. Although 60% is significant, 35% of poorer families that, in spite of economic challenges, choose higher-performing schools outside their neighborhoods is impressive.
The study also offers a chart that further illustrates who left their zoned schools behind, and who stayed between 2007 and 2016. Colors from bottom represent children who attended schools that were: in their zone, in a different zone, had gifted children programs, had dual-language programs, were unzoned, were charter.
The ideal situation would indeed be a system that did not exhibit disparities in quality between schools. However, significant disparities are an unfortunate reality that school officials have not corrected. Therefore a growing number of parents are no longer waiting for someone to act on their children’s behalf, but are taking action themselves. Their choices indicate what is important to them: high-performing schools that exhibit good test scores.