Are you salting away a little money for your retirement? Trying to plan for your kids’ education? If so, Seattle Public Schools seems to think you’re a racist.
According to the district’s official Web site, “having a future time orientation” (academese for having long-term goals) is among the “aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype and label people of color.”
Not all the district’s definitions of racism (and there are lots of them) are so cryptic. The site goes on immediately to say, “Emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology” is another form of “cultural racism.”
Did I mention that the district thinks only whites can be racist in America?
Regardless of your color, your affinity for planning or your penchant for reading “Das Kapital” under Fremont’s Lenin statue, does this make any sense to you?
See if this sounds familiar: a government agency redefining a highly charged word to advance a particular ideology. … Um, note to the Seattle School Board and administration: George Orwell’s novel “1984” was a cautionary tale, not a how-to book. And the folks trying to control people’s thoughts through state manipulation of the language — they were the bad guys.
But this is still a free country. Thanks to our (ostensibly racist) regard for individual liberty, Seattle Public Schools board members and officials are free to adopt whatever definitions of racism they choose. It is inherently divisive, however, for an official government school system to promote one ideology over another.
Unfortunately, it is also unavoidable.
Whenever there is a single official school system for which everyone is compelled to pay, it results in endless battles over the content of that schooling. This pattern holds true across nations and across time. Think of our own recurrent battles over school prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, the teaching of human origins, the selection and banning of textbooks and library books, dress codes, history standards, sex education, etc. Similar battles are fought over wearing Islamic headscarves in French public schools and over the National Curriculum in England.
There is an alternative: cultural détente through school choice.
Historically, societies have suffered far less conflict when families have been able to get the sort of education they deemed best for their own children without having to foist their preferences on their neighbors.
Some people fear that unfettered school choice would Balkanize our nation. Their concern is commendable but precisely backward. The chief source of education-related tensions is not diversity; it is compulsion. Why is there no cultural warfare over the diverse teachings of non-government schools? Because no one is forced to attend or pay for an independent school that violates their convictions.
It would not be difficult to design a school choice program that would ensure universal access to the educational marketplace without forcing anyone to attend or pay for schools whose teachings they opposed. It could be done by combining and expanding some of the education tax credit programs already operating in such places as Pennsylvania, Arizona and Illinois.
Such a system would not be a threat to the ideals of public education. On the contrary, it would be a far more effective means of advancing those ideals than the official state schools that have gnawed at our social fabric — and failed our most disadvantaged children academically — for generations.
Under such a choice-based system, those wanting to promote their own cultural and political philosophies could hang out a shingle and offer their services to any and all interested families. But they would lack the power, used and abused in Seattle, to impose their ideologies.