Give us your poor

“It’s the poor wot gets the blame.”

— Anonymous

There seems a fairly common conviction among us that many, even most, of our lower-income parents, for various reasons, fall below the level of responsibility necessary to decide which school is best for their child.

That belief, though slowly receding, seems yet sufficient to allow a general survival of the 19th Century enrollment policy by which the child is thought to be rescued from the naivete or indifference of the not-so-rich, maybe immigrant, parent. The boy or girl is thus ordered by government strangers into some nearby school called “public.”

Today, armadas of both critics and defenders of this intellectual ghetto of unprivileged children collide over its wisdom. The battle, so far, has been carried on largely over the learning efficiency of this system as measured by number scores on standardized tests.

Blizzards of these snow-report statistics come from states such as Ohio and Florida, which strongly suggests that a moderate growth in the child’s grasp of basics is achieved when choice is subsidized for him or her to attend the parents’ favored school.

Paradoxically – and distractingly – this avalanche of easy-to-report numbers has made test scores seem the essence of choice’s civic gift. In my view, this fixation on tallying scores has distracted the ready audience of choice from the broader and deeper effects to be expected of the re-empowerment of these belittled parents to act like, well … parents.

Mothers! Fathers! You are too poor to be ready to exercise your constitutional right; so, Freddie gets assigned to Lincoln Elementary for eight years.

One clear message from this to parents is hardly subtle. You are struggling to provide, hence, you are unfit to be sovereign of your own children, and, in reality, a mere servant of the state. You have completed your initial five years of duty in this role, producing and nurturing Freddie. That duty continues, but now with added responsibility to this government to deliver him to us at Location X five days a week. You may alter this responsibility only by changing residence or paying private school tuition.

From his next eight years of experience in such relationships, Fredie learns at least one thing: “I don’t want this family thing, ever, to happen to me; it’s a trap. I’m staying free.” Meanwhile, Freddie’s parent has reconceived what had briefly seemed a role of authority and responsibility, not so different from that of the rich. It had suddenly become merely an agency of those strangers who run the state.

At day’s end, if little Alice has complaints about her daily lot at school, what can a poor parent do about it? And what toll does this revelation of personal futility take on the parent’s sense of responsibility? “I can do zero, so I guess that’s what I’ll do from now on.”

If the child and parent have both learned that – unlike the rest of us – parents play only a subordinate role in the raising of the child, what effect has this upon our civil order? Does it make for the ideal of the good citizen to learn that, if you are poor, the State, not the family, will decide how and where and what this child’s mind and spirit will be served?

Could the answer be relevant to the rescue and reuniting of our society?