Alexis de Tocqueville and School Choice


by cheri block sabraw

In 2000, several years after I opened my school a fellow from a think thank in Washington D.C. called my office and asked to visit when he was in the Bay Area. He did. Shortly after, an invitation to a seminar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin arrived.

The seminar was a conversation about teacher choice, school choice, and vouchers.

The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, a conservative organization led by Gregory Fossedal hosted the group and paid for my trip.

And although I am not conservative (in fact I am a Libertarian),  I passionately wanted to be a part of a new model in public education, a system that is falling behind in a number of ways.

So, I attended.

On the way to Milwaukee, I speculated about who else might have been invited.

My verdict: born again Christians and other conservative people.

Boy was I wrong.

The majority of people were black or Hispanic from places like Atlanta and Denver and they weren’t conservative politically.

All there had journeyed in crummy November weather to join the discussion about one of America’s most curious problems–the public school system.

Martin Luther King’s niece was among us and she was outspoken.

Milwaukee at that time had successfully implemented school choice, so black and other poor parents from broken inner city schools, schools left impotent by white flight to the suburbs, were selecting different, successful schools for their kids. Some of these schools were Lutheran and others were Catholic. Some were private. Others were charter schools

In Milwaukee, the teachers union had a hissy fit (like they are having in Chicago and L.A. right now) and found sympathizers to run for the school board but they didn’t win.

The black and Hispanic attendees shared their belief that the then (and  now) current model, even the models that the wealthy Kennedy-type liberals professed would end the racial divide in American public education, wasn’t working for their kids.

They said:

The teachers were crap.

The facilities were crap.

The results were crap.

They felt, and this is a general summary, that the paternal  and well meaning effort ( by the Democrats and union) to solve the educational gap between schools situated in middle and upper class neighborhoods and those located in poor neighborhoods, was really racist at its core because the liberals assumed that the minority parents wouldn’t make the effort and may not know what to do with school choice.

Oh my.

In my town, the first day of school is next week.

Just think what would happen to schools that aren’t cutting the mustard if everyone had a choice for their kids.

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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12 Responses to Alexis de Tocqueville and School Choice

  1. andreaskluth says:

    The Economist, I recall, has been for school vouchers for decades.

    What, incidentally, did/would de Tocqueville say about the subject of education. Did that come up?

    (Oh, and psst: There’s a ‘c’ in front of his ‘q’.)

  2. Cheri says:

    Thank you (much) for the correction!
    I am so lucky to have a pedant reading my blog. 😀

    So is the Economist for the teachers’ union?
    It’s pretty tough to be for both when the issue of school vouchers is on the table, so to speak.

  3. andreaskluth says:

    I can’t imagine that we are for the union, but don’t expect us to be coherent. Also, you realize, we are usually in the difficult position of having to figure out subjects such as education for ALL countries EVERYWHERE simultaneously, in 800 words.

    Personally, I have not studied the issue with the necessary rigor yet, but I plan to write about it at some point later this year.

  4. Douglas says:

    Just another very important point on which this country is divided. I believe that, not so long ago, funding for school choice was ended in DC. What a pity.

  5. To have lousy schools from which young people emerge almost as ignorant as when they went in, may be what governments want.

    It’s much easier to govern the ignorant than the informed.

  6. This is a pretty big issue with plenty to discuss. I live in a town that funds its schools almost exclusively through tax payer money. Time and again the voters go to the town meetings and vote, by a large margin, in favor of supporting their schools. We receive VERY little government assistance. The results are there and parent participation is very high.

    Meanwhile, not to far away, the government fully funds a neighboring small city where the results are truly pathetic. Parent involvement is extremely low. But, the cycle continues olacing money into those communities. Some of their schools have fgull computer labs. We’re lucky to have one or two in a classroom.

    I am fortunate to be part of an involved, informed community and one in which many folks do work hard and squeeze in their time. We’re pretty much on our own and with the current state of the economy the people are still putting education first.

    Republicans and Democrats aside, their aren’t enough libertarians or conservatives acting responsibly in our government today and sadly it will be to our detriment as a nation in the future if the fiscal irresponsibility continues.

    My wife is an educator and I imagine she has her own take on a number of these issues. She is generally entrenched special needs and responsive classroom among other things doing her best to give each and every kid she teaches the best they can receive and advocating for them.

    Anyway, very complicated issue and one I certainly don’t know enough about myself.

  7. Cheri says:

    I appreciated reading this response.

    Certainly one key component is parental involvement and your community is a good example of one with the right priorities.

    And as your wife demonstrates, there are many devoted and passionate educators in this country. I, myself, did for my students (for 26 years) as your wife is doing now for hers.

    But the union spends a great deal of money defending its members, even those who are lazy and incompetent. Without a wonderful teacher, not as much happens in the classroom as could. Without a wonderful teacher, students skills suffer. Most parents, even single parents and parents in low income areas (provided they are not alcoholics/drug addicts/ mentally ill) can recognize a good classroom and school. It’s when they are stuck at a low performing school that the rub comes. No choice. No avenues.

    I would be interested in your wife’s take on this issue.

    • Douglas says:

      The Fanatic points out the difference between small communities and larger ones. It is harder for parents to be heard in larger communities so apathy tends to set in. In both cases, it is tax money that funds the schools but the larger the community the more competing interests come into play. The concept of neighborhood schools ease some of that but then you end up with a disparity between the richer and poorer neighborhoods.
      School choice appears to be a valid solution and it also appears to be an effective one. But it likely causes competition for federal funds (based on head count, as you know) which is why the education unions fight it.
      I don’t see the government having a need for ignorance of the populace so much as a need to control the information used to instruct.

  8. Always a great conversation with y’all here. I wish I could get The One To Be Pitied as she affectionately refers to herself to contribute, but I know she goes from school to school work to bed day to day and I’m not holding my breath. I did send her the link here. Have a great new school year all.

  9. Cheri says:

    We are always interested in independently minded people here at Notes.

    I hope The One To Be Pitied will share her ideas.
    She could also be The One To Be Pithy…:)

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