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The Choice We Face by Jon N. Hale

The Choice We Face by Jon N. Hale

Author:Jon N. Hale [Hale, Jon N.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Published: 2021-08-15T00:00:00+00:00


CHAPTER SEVEN

The Sinking Ship of Public Education and the Failure of Choice

MILTON FRIEDMAN HAS WON, even beyond the economic theory that earned him a Nobel Prize. His greatest legacy is advancing school choice and inspiring one of the most comprehensive reform movements in educational history. For the last ten years of his life, he and his wife, Rose, committed themselves to privatization and school choice. As he noted in their joint autobiography, “Rose and I feel so strongly about the importance of privatizing the school system that we have established the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation with the sole mission of promoting public understanding and support of the measures necessary to achieve that objective.”1 With their foundation—now called EdChoice—the Friedmans worked to steer the school choice movement into the safe harbor we know today. As the conservative pundit Cal Thomas opined after Friedman’s passing in 2006, “If school choice becomes the norm in America, it will be Milton Friedman’s real legacy and every poor child who is liberated from a failed government school will owe him a lasting debt of gratitude.”2 The choice movement is forever indebted to its savior.

Friedman’s ideas have eclipsed and surpassed in popularity the desegregation movement that defined the era of his first foray into school reform politics in the 1950s. Yet his ideas remain supported by an unchanging systemic racism that undercuts the righteous demands of advocates connected to a longer struggle like Howard Fuller and Sarah Carpenter. A structurally racist system will never give real power to historically marginalized communities and, therefore, a fair chance at success.

Millions of families of color, as well as poor Whites, stand to lose, as they truly have no choice but to enroll their children in underfunded, segregated schools—public, private, or charter. Choice has provided a safety net for some, but the majority are in peril. Dave Dennis, a civil rights activist who led CORE in Mississippi during the 1960s, mobilizes communities to demand quality education as a constitutional right today. He employs the apt analogy that school choice provides a life raft for the few who can escape the sinking ship of public education. The remaining families—majority-Black, -Brown, and poor—are left on the ship as the nation watches, critiques, and largely refuses to extend a helping hand.

The theoretical edifice of school choice crumbles under the crushing weight of racism in the United States. Race is the key to understanding how school choice has failed to deliver its promises in any equitable way. The forces of racism, which Friedman relegated to a footnote in his seminal essay, now dominate the implementation of school choice. Choice is essentially all about race. Historically, all of American public education has been shaped by race. In the antebellum era, since education for slaves was explicitly forbidden, Whites excluded Africans and African Americans at the advent of public education during the mid-nineteenth century.3 After the Civil War, education was racially segregated by law in the South through the 1950s. The tumultuous period of



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