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January 2, 2004
The Race Education of a White Guy

Howard Dean inserted his foot yet again, this time on the subject of race, and Mickey Kaus is all over it:

"Dealing with race is about educating white folks." Howard Dean seems to have said this. That'll bring in those Southern pickup guys! They love being singled out for 'education'! ... Is there really nothing in "dealing with race" that involves changing African-American attitudes along with white attitudes? Dean's comment would be more depressing if weren't also the sort of cluelessly pre-Clinton utterance that virtually guarantees he will never be president.

It's the sort of mindless pandering that has become emblematic of the Dean campaign. He wants to bolster his standing among African-Americans, but in his greed, he steps on his tongue again. Dean wants to return to the demonization that has characterized race politics for decades, something that Clinton tried to change.

The problem with race relations and civil rights is a lack of definition of its goals. During its Golden Age, the civil-rights movement had a clear and definable mission: the ending of state-sanctioned (and imposed) segregation, equal voting rights, and equal access to government, including education. All of these goals have been accomplished, and for the past three decades, it has drifted from the notion of equal access to equal results in the absence of a hard, attainable goal. However, guaranteeing equal results removes us from a market economy to a socialist, government-controlled entitlement economy similar to what the French and Germans have -- and they are slowly drowning as their demographics destroy the Ponzi schemes their entitlement programs became. In that case, the only equality we'll achieve is the equality of starvation.

No one is doubting that disparity exists, and it exists along racial lines to some extent, but mostly it exists along class lines. This continues not because of a lack of access to the government-run education system, but because of a lack of options to it. In order for economically disadvantaged people to truly be able to compete in the marketplace, they need to have a good education, one that allows them access to the better universities and the networking that builds the careers of its graduates. Civil-rights efforts in education have been focused on the college and university levels, but the true issue is in the performance of inner-city primary and secondary schools. Unfortunately, these schools "educate" a high proportion of minority children, and the dual problems of poor performance and denial of school choice doom these children to a poor education and an inability to compete at the college and career levels. Consider this article in today's Los Angeles Times:

Orthodox civil rights groups are also largely silent on what may be the most important civil rights issue of our time: the perplexing and shocking racial learning gap between white and Asian students at one end of the learning spectrum and black and Latino students at the other. By the 12th grade, on average, black and Latino students are four years behind their white and Asian counterparts.

The data suggest that poverty, racism, class size and spending are not major factors. Instead, it is the inability to hold teachers accountable, powerful teacher unions that have lost focus, school cultures based in failure and a dominant culture in many black and Latino homes and communities that, in part, leads to kids watching too much television, having little exposure to books, facing peer pressure that ridicules academic excellence and having insufficient parental involvement in their educational lives.

Instead of locking children into this vicious cycle, we should be freeing the parents to select schools that actually work by providing a voucher system. Freed from an educational monopoly, parents will be able to send their children to private schools -- an option chosen by many, if not most, parents of higher economic strata -- and receive a better education, stronger involvement in curricula, and allow children of all races and economic classes to intermix and develop networks of friendships that will not only result in better career-building but will also finally remove the barriers between the races and classes within a single generation. It will also be done in a free-market manner instead of top-down, bureaucratic edicts.

Democrats, while pandering to African-Americans, do not like this solution. They prefer to force African-Americans and the poor to utilize only the government educational monopoly even while the schools continue to fail to provide an education or even physical safety for its students. Why? At least in part, they want to enforce the notion that government is the sole guarantor of necessary services, but also because one of their major sources of funding is unions, and no union is as politically supportive of Democrats as the National Education Association. The end result is a succeeding procession of victimized generations, angry at the lack of access that their substandard education provided and looking for someone to blame. These naturally become Democratic voters, who continue the sad cycle for the next generation.

Education, the first line of battle in the civil-rights movement, should become the final battle in order to truly break this inevitable process and build an organic foundation for true equality. Government can be part of the solution by providing school vouchers in economically distressed areas, and in districts where primary and secondary schools are demonstrably failing. President Bush, in his second term, has the ability to make more progress in true civil rights than anyone since the 1960s, and in the process expose Howard Dean and the rest of the left as panderers and pretenders.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 2, 2004 4:08 PM

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