By Bill Mattox, JMI Resident Fellow
In January, I had the privilege of taking part in a panel discussion at Florida State University regarding the documentary film, “Waiting for Superman.” The film profoundly moved me – no doubt in part because two of the personal stories in “Superman” hit rather close to home. (My daughter Allison once attended a public school in Washington, D.C. not far from the one where Anthony was trapped – and, later, when Allison was a student at the University of Southern California, she volunteered at a middle school in south-central L.A. very similar to the one Daisy was doomed to attend.) Very early in the panel discussion, an FSU student asked all of us on the panel a good question: “What one thing do you think is most preventing us from solving these problems?” My response probably surprised some people (since I had just praised Jeb Bush in my opening remarks). I said something like this: The biggest thing keeping us from solving these problems in public education is that there aren’t enough “good liberals” anymore. Liberals are supposed to stand up for the little guy. They’re supposed to come to the aid of the oppressed. They’re supposed to champion the cause of the poor, the downtrodden, the needy. They’re supposed to have a special concern for minorities. Yet, when it comes to education, liberals have “sold out.” Instead of fighting for kids like Anthony and Daisy, they’re defending the Establishment. They’re protecting the Blob. Part of the function that liberals are supposed to serve in society is to remind everyone of the importance of the individual. Of every person’s uniqueness. Of the fact that we’re not all the same. And that we should celebrate diversity. Yet, when it comes to education, liberals seem to think that all kids should go to plain vanilla, one-size-fits-all public schools rather than having the privilege of learning in an educational setting that is tailored to their own unique interests, talents, needs, beliefs, and learning styles. Rather than doing what good liberals should do – and say, “Let a thousand flowers bloom” – liberals instead say “No” to the desperate need for school choice that kids like Anthony and Daisy have.While it’s great that there are many conservatives making very compelling free-market arguments in favor of school choice – and reminding us, as the research shows, that greater competition between schools tends to improve performance across the board – it sure would be helpful if we had some good liberals who were prepared to fight the Education Establishment for the sake of kids like Anthony and Daisy.