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The Prism

Letters   Schools
Angela Davis
Criticism of the Prism

To the editor:

I just read Brent Kendall's article about Jonathan Kozol's talk (which I wanted to attend, but couldn't.) Like so much material printed in organs cleaving to well-defined ideological lines, Kendall's piece is predictably ... well, predictable.

Please consider a comment in Kendall's penultimate paragraph: "It is absurd to expect a school system that spends thousands less per child to provide an equivalent education to districts with much larger sums of money at their disposal."

On average, Waldorf, Friends and parochial schools spend about $2500 per student, less than half the national public school allotment per child. Furthermore, these schools—which are far less motivated by the profit motive than Public Schools and public school teachers—typically do far better than their counterparts in government monopoly schools.

Earlier in the article, Kendall culls information from Money Magazine, an admittedly good, but consummately capitalist publication:

"The best public schools perform better than their private school counterparts." What Kendall fails to say is that the best public schools invest four times as much money (per capita) as Waldorf, Friends and parochial schools, and furthermore these show-piece schools (whose existence suborns most white activists into silence) minister to children predisposed to academic success by over-achieving parents—the same parents who are disproportionately responsible for devising and sustaining the socio-economic status quo that the Prism usually assails. Lest we forget: post-war American politics has always been brought to us by "the best and the brightest."

By citing Money Magazine's observation that "the average public school teacher had higher qualifications ... than their private school counterparts" Kendall begs a critical question: "Why is public school performance abysmal if public schools enjoy better-qualified teachers in addition to twice as much money per student?

The Carnegie Foundation bad-mouths "existing school choice plans." They deserve to be bad-mouthed! Existing choice plans are lukewarm, half-hearted efforts which provide, at most!, one third of the money that The State currently spends to perpetuate The Official Story in government-operated franchises, which—regardless the associated rhetoric about serving the poor—in fact foster the very dysfunction which prepares most minority students to do "graduate work" in the slammer.

You can't combust paper at 300 degrees.

I'm reminded of the Sandinista experiment: the United States was primarily determined to insure the failure of a socio-economic experiment that might have demonstrated the viability—and even the superiority—of an alternative system.

If school choice is to work, it should be made universally available at a dollar amount that enables Friends' schools, Waldorf Schools, parochial schools, "The Prism Academy", "The Harley Davidson School of Applied Physics" etcetera... to pay the bloody bills.

Any chatter about "How are we going to insure the academic integrity of so many schools outside the public orbit?" deliberately obscures the massive dis-integrity already manifest in the nation's public schools. Indeed, if anyone wishes to destroy public instruction —which is not my aim—create the following protocol. Allow public school educators themselves to create outcome-based student evaluation criteria: then, any school—public or private—that does not meet the state's own standards will be dissolved.

Public schools don't want a choice-driven system for the same reason Washington wanted to topple Sandinista Nicaragua: the experiment might damn well work—and work better—than the shit we've got.

Alan Archibald

(Former Orange County public schoolteacher and migrant liaison; former co-president of the American Federation of Teachers, Orange High School)

Brent Kendall responds:

I certainly respect the role private schools play in educating some of our nation's children. Private educators do an admirable job providing students with a quality education while spending considerably less per child. However, there are legitimate reasons why public education has higher expenses. Private schools have the advantage of educating many of the kids "predisposed to academic success" to whom you refer. Public institutions are challenged with educating many socio-economically disadvantaged children whose communities are plagued by a variety of pathologies. Though most private schools have their success stories, they are not charged with overcoming these obstacles en masse. In addition, public schools maintain costly programs to educate the mentally and physically handicapped; they are legally bound to do so, whatever the cost.

I must emphasize my aim is not to evaluate the pros/cons of a private education but to stress that the focus on publicly funded school choice overshadows the most fundamental problem faced by America's poorly performing public systems: the severe funding discrepancies from district to district. Investment in public schools is so grossly unequal that it is both immoral and inexcusable. Dismal public systems in vulnerable communities help perpetuate the vicious poverty cycle and ensure the existence of a permanent underclass. And unless we are willing to commit the necessary resources, the situation will only worsen.

Yes, I firmly believe in the merits of public education. When working, the educational system embodies the pluralism this country dearly values as children from all walks of life come together and learn. Many systems have never been given the chance to forge this reality. Give them that chance, then let's debate the merits of school choice.

To the Editor,

I am writing in response to Akiia Robertson's insightful reflection on her experience seeing Angela Davis speak. She reflected on her inability to claim the same passion and commitment Ms. Davis displays. She ended with the statement, "Maybe that is because, just like my peers, I am part of the problem."

While none of us are pure, Ms. Robertson sounds to me like a far cry from "part of the problem." In my humble opinion, Ms. Robertson is the key to and the hope for the solution. It seems that the Angela Davises, Dolores Huerta's, Rigoberta Menchu's, Mother Jones's of this world are far too rare, but they are the only role models for a just life. (And besides, even in revolutionary utopia someone has got to do that not-so-revolutionary stuff that lets society eat, travel, teach/learn, dwell under a roof, etc.)

As inspiring as these leaders are, sometimes they make me feel like I could never really do enough to measure up. I don't care enough. I'm not committed enough to give up everything for "the struggle." I really should...

In my race the virulent strain of "I really should care/do more" is known as "white guilt," and seems to have produced only the most unreliable and shallow of allies for people fighting injustice.

I think the most effective people do work to improve things for some reason other than that "they really should." Maybe their sister or first love was raped and they stayed up nights with her when she was shaking so hard and couldn't sleep. Maybe they're watching their kids' dreams being crushed by the despair all around. Maybe their father died a painful death from all the crap he breathed in the plant for 30 years. Whatever it is, it hurts too much to sit still.

Some of these strike out on their own and start something, and others find some group or organization that inspires them to the core, teaches them things and skills they never thought they could learn, and let's them know their contribution is significant. (These are what is really far too rare!)

So the prison-industrial complex doesn't raise a sustained and burning fire in Ms. Robertson's (or whoever else's) gut. What does? What might? What organization is she fascinated about working with? What does she do that makes her joyful? What is she good at? How can she do those things to contribute, learn, organize, and/or raise hell?

I wish her luck in finding the things that fire her up, feed her and give her hope. I hope (for their sakes and ours) that she and those others who also care enough to take action find groups and organizations that nurture them as leaders. For me, it's good to know they're all out there.

Paul Terranova
Chapel Hill

Dear Editor,

I was recently handed a copy of your publication and read it with a colleague. It seems like a fairly interesting paper, yet it was missing something: Facts. I saw a lot of numbers and figures, however no sources, no accurate info, and no realistic grasp of the world. One example: on page 9 of your Nov issue, "Sherry" (no last name - I guess she doesn't want to be associated with her writings) states that communists "are not permitted to engage in racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic activities."

The best example of a communist nation (by the way, it collapsed) indeed followed these ideals. I suppose this is why we saw so many non-Russians in the Politburo and the officer ranks of their military. This is also why Stalin purged millions of his own people merely for not agreeing with his policies or for the "good of the people"... [Excerpt from Funk & Wagnall's encyclopedia follows—ed.]

I guess Sherry has never read any history concerning the subject she claims to believe in. But then again why should Sherry read anything accurate, after all the Soviets only allowed state-approved books to be read. Yup, the Soviets sure did allow people to disagree (Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968) and freely travel to other nations, even to see their relatives (Berlin Wall 1961).

Also on page 9, Sherry states the communists "do not rat on fellow workers." Hmmm. Let's look at the KGB tactics to maintain communist control ... [More from Funk & Wagnall's, this on KGB—ed.]

Yup, this is freedom at its best. All peoples could walk outside their homes in a communal bliss that would be the epitome of society and culture to the rest of the world.

One thought to keep in mind, is that the right to free speech and freedom of the press (1st Amendment, US Constitution) is not a right shared within the borders of the Communist world.

Eric Gray
Student, UNC-CH


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