Concerned Parents — Or Crypto-Kluckers?
The New York Times never misses a chance to demonize the standard hate figures in the progressive hierarchy. When I saw this headline the other day, I knew that the story would write itself:
Here is an excerpt:
There is a trick to getting to the front of the lines that clog sidewalks outside New York City’s top public high schools each fall.
Parents who pay $200 for a newsletter compiled by a local admissions consultant know that they should arrive hours ahead of the scheduled start time for school tours.
On a recent Tuesday, there were about a hundred mostly white parents queued up at 2:30 p.m. in the spitting rain outside of Beacon High School, some toting snacks and even a few folding chairs for the long wait. The doors of the highly selective, extremely popular school would not open for another two hours for the tour.
Parents and students who arrived at the actual start time were in for a surprise. The line of several thousand people had wrapped around itself, stretching for three midtown Manhattan blocks.
Tens of thousands of eligible families were not there at all.
Many New Yorkers cannot leave work in the middle of the afternoon, and some students surely did not know that the open house — or even the school — existed in the first place.
All of this is true, and important. But leave it to the Times to racialize it — somehow, white people are cheating! — when it fact this is mostly a story about class. But not just class: it’s also about culture. And, to backtrack a little bit on my stance, there is a racial element to it, though not, I would say, what the progressive headline writers at that newspaper think.
Reading the piece, I was reminded of a column I read a decade or so ago by Jim Schutze, the paleo-liberal city columnist for the Dallas Observer. Schutze couldn’t stand my right-wing self when I wrote for The Dallas Morning News, and he is not above taking cheap shots. But he’s a really good columnist on most days, even when I disagree with him (or was a good columnist; I quit following him after I moved away from Dallas in 2010, though I see that he’s still writing for the Observer; presumably he still has his powers intact).
Schutze wrote an Observer column back in the day, one that half an hour of searching online did not turn up, that struck me as the kind of truth that only a white liberal with skin in the game could have told. Schutze wrote a lot about the public school system in Dallas, which his children (or child; I don’t know if he had multiple) attended. After his youngest graduated and went to college, he felt free (he said) to write this particular column.
In it, if my memory is accurate, he said that even though white kids were a relatively small minority in Dallas County public schools, they had more power as an interest group than their numbers indicated. Why? Because white parents had a habit of showing up at meetings to advocate for their kids. Black and Hispanic parents, not so much. I couldn’t find that particular Schutze column (if one of you readers can, send it to me, and I’ll post it), but I did find this one that makes some of the same points in this 2008 piece about Dallas schools:
If Obama can be president, is it OK for white people to be assholes again?
And, of course, I don’t mean it exactly the way it sounds. I’m worried about the Dallas school system. What I really mean is that it may be time for upwardly mobile middle-class and working-class people of all ethnicities in the city to step forward and fight the good fight for old-fashioned academic elitism again.
What Dallas needs is a lot of very demanding parents, people who are smart enough and mean enough to push past the bureaucracy, people whose interests are less compromised by money than the construction interests, with thick enough skins to be able to stand each other. And I know you will know what I mean when I say that, of all those qualities, the last one will be the most difficult to come by.
White people have to be jerks. Black people have to be jerks. Latinos have to be jerks. Everybody has to be able to get mad at everybody. And everybody has to get over it and join together to fight for educational excellence.
In the column that I can’t find, I seem to recall that he was much more blunt about squeaky wheels getting the grease. His argument, quite a sensible one, is that black and Hispanic parents need to start behaving more like white parents, regarding making educating their kids a priority, and staying on top of school officials.
Back to that Times story from last week:
“You only get one chance to figure out four years of your kid’s education,” said Alisa Kriegel, who joined Beacon’s line early after reading Ms. Stein’s newsletter. She waited with three other white mothers who met at their children’s TriBeCa middle school.
The four women had created an informal admissions support group, complete with a shared Google calendar, a robust group text and the promise of company on long waits to tour schools. “We’ve been going through hell,” Ms. Kriegel said.
“The Department of Education should be doing what Elissa Stein is doing, for free,” said Jill Taddeo, who was part of Ms. Kriegel’s crew.
OK, maybe so. But why aren’t other parents doing it for themselves? Parents who are willing to spend the time and effort (even more important than money) figuring out the system and advocating for their kids, will almost always see their kids get ahead of others. This is just the way the world works. You can’t be passive and expect the same results, and then assume that somehow, someone has gamed the system against you.
Don’t get me wrong: sometimes, systems are gamed against certain classes of people. But it bothers me when these parents who went out there to stand in a long line simply to take a tour of this selective public school — and there would be no penalty to applicants whose parents didn’t take the tour! — are held out for shaming in the Times simply because they’re white. There was no reason at all for the Times to insert race into this story — but if it’s going to do that, then why not do a story on the way people in different ethnic cultures regard sacrificing for education? If the Times believes that there are not culturally specific habits related to education, they’re dreaming. I’ve talked to teachers, both black and white, in predominantly black (and black and Hispanic) school systems, and all of them have talked in depth about how little support they get from the parents of their minority students.
One older black woman who taught in an all-black public high school — mostly serving poor and working class black kids — told me that she took retirement because she got sick and tired of dealing with kids who wouldn’t do their homework, and parents who would only show up to meetings when they wanted to complain about teachers being unfair to their precious snowflake. I have been told more than a few stories like this, and not just about black kids.
As one of the commenters on the Times story wrote:
I am fascinated that those that see discrimination as the underlying problem in schools (and other parts of society) so easily dismiss the success of Asian immigrants. Asians start with dramatic disadvantages to the local Black population. Similarly to the Latino population, the majority start without an understanding of American culture and English is a second language. The Chinese woman in China town who speaks no English, can’t drive and lacks a high school diploma is far worse off that then [sic] a person born in the states. Yet, their success is dismissed and the system is called broken. Instead of changing the system, identify the success behaviors exhibited in successful communities and reinforce these characteristics. Today, everyone is a victim and all success or failure is the result of some other person. We need to rebalance the system so that personal responsibility is of equal weight to making the system more fair
In The Benedict Option, I wrote:
If you want to know how critical education is to cultural and religious survival, ask Jews. Rabbi Mark Gottlieb says, “Jews committed to traditional life put schooling above almost anything. There are families that will do just about anything short of bankrupting themselves to give their children an Orthodox Jewish education.” Christians have not been nearly as alert to the importance of education, and it’s time to change that.
Why look down on people of any religious or ethnic background who prioritize education, and are willing to sacrifice for their kids’ education? Why not see what they’re doing right, and work to make those practices more common in all ethnic and religious communities?