Jewish World Review Dec. 2, 2004 / 19 Kislev, 5765

Michael Graham

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The Butterfield Effect | It's called "The Butterfield Effect."

It's what happens when someone on the Left makes a statement that is laughably ludicrous on its face, yet it reveals what the speaker truly believes — no matter how dumb.

"The Butterfield Effect" is named in honor of ace New York Times crime reporter Fox Butterfield, the intrepid analyst responsible for such brilliantly headlined stories as "More Inmates, Despite Drop In Crime," and "Number in Prison Grows Despite Crime Reduction," not to mention the poetic 1997 header, "Crime Keeps on Falling, but Prisons Keep on Filling."

Mr. Butterfield is truly perplexed at what he calls the "paradox" of more criminals in prison coinciding with less crime in neighborhoods. An observation that might appear obvious to an 8th grader (crooks + jail = fewer crimes) is simply beyond his grasp. Butterfield of the Times is the poster boy for the greatest conundrum facing the American Left today: How do you explain to people who just don't get it that the problem is they just don't get it?

Down in South Carolina, the Butterfield Effect is in full force on the issue of education. Superintendent of Education (and defeated Democratic candidate for US Senate) Inez Tenenbaum is an adamant opponent of the free market when it comes to education. She is fighting Republican Gov. Mark Sanford's efforts to let parents choose the best available schools for their children. She is also adamant that taxpayers should only give education money to government bureaucrats, no matter how incompetent these bureaucrats might be.

"I don't know if South Carolina has ever had a situation where we have a governor who is just against public education," Tenenbaum told The State newspaper. "I just don't understand his philosophy on it. The governor may not take much interest in the public schools, but most South Carolinians do."

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Inez Butterfield and her fellow education bureaucrats have yet to master that simple, and well known, mathematical formula: Government + education = suck."

More than 40'% of South Carolina's ninth graders will not graduate in four years. This year's graduating class will have the lowest collective SAT score in the nation. Only 20% of 4th and 8th graders score "at or above proficient" on the NAEP in math and reading. For my fellow South Carolina public school grads, that means 4 out of 5 students score at or near the Jethro Bodine level for cypherin' and knowin' their letters.

And while our students rank at or near the bottom in virtually every performance category, our taxpayers rank near the middle when it comes to paying for education. In other words, we're paying for a Toyota but driving a Yugo.

So tell me again why anyone should be for government-run education?

While opponents of school choice insist that Americans are die-hard supporters of government schools, most parents could care less about "public education?" What we want is an educated public. If that's what liberals cared about, they would be leading the fight to free students from the horrible, failing government gulags that imprison young minds and limit opportunities.

If they cared about actually educating children, liberals would be banging on the doors of privately-run schools and begging them to rescue motivated, low-income students. How can Democrats like Superintendent Tenenbaum watch these poor kids ride on school buses that literally pass in front of high-achieving parochial schools on their way to some government-run hellhole? How can they not get it?

I don't mean to pick on poor Inez, especially after her recent electoral defeat. Her fellow liberals are just as clueless. The Washington Post, for example, had an editorial just days ago on the declining number of black students applying to major universities. The Post, which adamantly supports racial quotas and fiercely opposes school choice, acknowledges that "American public schools are preparing many fewer African American students -- particularly males -- for education at elite universities than those universities would like to admit."

So the government school system doesn't work, and the people suffering the most are black students who tend to be trapped in the worst of the schools. This is news? Meanwhile, school choice would free these black kids to go to privately-run schools where they are more likely to succeed, and The Washington Post's suggestion is to…

Do nothing. Keep the current system. "The key to increasing minority enrollment," the Post editorializes, "lies partly in intelligent affirmative action programs; partly in awarding tuition aid on need, not merit." In other words, lower standards for black students and more money for kids who meet those lower standards.

Yeah, that's how you encourage higher academic achievement — demand less of it! And pay more for those who don't make the grade!

How can any sentient, rational being — white, black or otherwise — write that sentence? How blind do you have to be? How utterly clueless about people, about human nature, about life itself?

I wish I had a magic wand to send school vouchers to every kid stuck in America's worst public schools, just so I could read the resulting headlines. A year from today, Fox Butterfield would be quoting Inez Tenenbaum in a special for the Washington Post entitled "More Graduate, Despite Lower Public School Enrollment," or "Drop-Out Rates Keep Falling, But Private Schools Keep Filling."

The best part: They still wouldn't get it.

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JWR contributor Michael Graham is a talk show host and author of the highly acclaimed "Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War." To comment, please click here.



© 2004, Michael Graham