Elizabeth Warren's advice to parents of kids in struggling public schools reeks of privilege
Elizabeth Warren's advice to parents with children in underperforming public schools sounds strangely conservative and reeks of privilege.
- In a recent interview with the largest teacher's union in the US, Warren said she told concerned parents, "If you think your public school is not working, then go help your public school."
- She added: "Help get more resources for your public school. Volunteer at your public school ... You don't like the building? You think it's old and decaying? Then get out there and push to get a new one."
Warren's insinuation that underperforming public schools' problems are the responsibility of the parents to fix is both insulting and myopic.
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Elizabeth Warren's got a plan for that. That's been the Massachusetts senator's campaign mantra since launching her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination last year.Yet when it comes to America's public schools, the progressive populist in a recent interview didn't articulate her rather detailed plan so much as she dispensed strangely conservative-sounding advice that reeks of privilege.
Warren said she's asked concerned parents: "If you don't like your public school, what's going to happen to the rest of the children who are there? Because we don't have an obligation just to a handful of our children, we have an obligation to all of our children."
The idea that a few generations of children should have their formative years sacrificed on the altar of an unenforceable promise that, at some point, broken public schools will somehow improve isn't a new one among liberal Democratic politicians.Warren continued: "If you think your public school is not working, then go help your public school. Help get more resources for your public school. Volunteer at your public school. Help get the teachers and the school bus drivers and the cafeteria workers and the custodial staff and the support staff - help get them some support so they can do the work that needs to be done. You don't like the building? You think it's old and decaying? Then get out there and push to get a new one."It's a wonder Warren didn't add "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps" to this very un-progressive plea for parents to take personal responsibility for a crucial public resource that's failing the public it serves.
Warren exercised school choice for her own child, but would prefer you didn't
Warren's comments belied a myopic assumption about the parents who choose to look beyond their neighborhood schools for their kid's education.
Rather than detail her plan on how a Warren administration would support local education programs, the Massachusetts senator said concerned parents shouldn't look to alternatives like charter schools. Essentially, she said they could improve their troubled situations if only they worked harder.Many of these parents are presumably surviving on low incomes and trapped by their zip codes in subpar districts. Students from low-income backgrounds represent a greater percentage of the student population at charter schools than at traditional public schools, according to data from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University.
But many parents in underperforming school districts would presumably not be endowed with so much free time that they can take on an additional unpaid job at their kids' school.
These parents are also likely to be without the political capital and time needed to successfully lobby their local governments to refurbish "old and decaying" schools. And even if lawmakers did agree to invest in such cosmetic improvements, those fix-ups would almost certainly be enjoyed well after these parents' children had moved on from those schools.Instead of admonishing parents who make the decision to look beyond their local public school for their kids' education, Warren - the noted progressive policy wonk - could have plainly elucidated her vision to improve public education so that more schools become these parents' first choice.
Sarah Carpenter - the executive director of Memphis Lift, a pro-school choice nonprofit focusing on parent education and advocacy - was seen on video telling Warren, "We are going to have the same choice that you had for your kids because I read that your children went to private schools."Warren replied, "No my children went to public schools," a statement which can generously be described as a half-truth.
Warren's daughter did indeed attend public schools for her K-12 education, but her son, Alex, did not. The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website, found that Alex attended The Haverford School - a selective private school - for all but one year of his grades 5 through 12 education.The senator made a choice that she thought was in the best interests of her child and she should at least respect other parents making the same choice.Warren's advice ignores the lived realities of the parents who live in districts with underperforming schools. The assumption that such schools would substantially improve if only the parents demonstrated greater volunteer efforts and prioritized future generations' educations over their own kids is disrespectful and unlikely to win any converts.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
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