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Jewish World Review Feb. 29, 2000 /23 Adar 1, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Playing blacks for suckers -- EVEN THOUGH the South Carolina primaries are over, Vice President Al Gore is still trying whip up emotions among black voters elsewhere by hyping the issue of the confederate flag flying over the state capitol in South Carolina. Apparently that flag is much more offensive now than it was when it was flying over the state capitol in Arkansas, when Bill Clinton was governor.

Meanwhile, neither Gore nor most other Democrats will lift a finger to deal seriously with one of the worst problems facing the black community -- the inferior education in ghetto schools across the country, which predestines a whole generation of young blacks to failure when they go out to compete in the real world.

Why not? Because any serious attempt to raise educational standards in the public schools will step on the toes of the big teachers' union, the National Educational Association. The NEA is regularly one of the biggest campaign contributors to the Democrats at both the state and national levels. Therefore Democrats follow the NEA line in equating inferior schools with schools that need more money. When pouring ever more billions of tax dollars down the bottomless pit of failing schools produces only more expensive failure -- as it has, time and again over the years -- their only answer is that we need to "invest" more in "the future of our young people."

So long as we keep buying it, they will keep selling it.

We may think that this is ridiculous as an educational policy, but it has worked like a charm as political strategy. The Democrats have a solid hold on the votes of millions of people whose children's futures are being destroyed in schools run for the benefit of NEA members, not the benefit of children.

Try firing even one incompetent teacher and be prepared to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight against the NEA's automatic defense of tenure. It is much easier to transfer an incompetent teacher to another school -- preferably one where the parents are poorer and less educated. A disproportionate number of these incompetent teachers are likely to end up teaching in minority schools.

But do not expect Democratic politicians to do anything serious about that so long as they can get the black vote by denouncing the confederate flag, posing for pictures with black children and making sweeping accusations of racism.

It is not rocket science to figure out what the Democrats are doing. What is really a challenge is to figure out what the Republicans are doing.

While some Republicans have supported vouchers and other forms of parental choice, what they have never done is what most needs doing -- explain to a national audience why they are opposed to the public school monopoly in general and to the National Education Association in particular. Explaining their reasons has never been the Republicans' strong suit -- on this or any other issue.

True, the NEA is a powerful organization with a lot of money. But the NEA is going to use virtually all of that money and power for the Democrats anyway. And they are going all-out to defeat any Republican who tries to turn the schools into places to educate children, instead of places to provide iron-clad jobs for teachers.

Why not strike first, capture the public's attention and let them know that you stand for something -- if you do? Among the reasons for not doing that is the fear of being demonized by the NEA in ads that will never be denounced as "negative advertising" by the media that seems so sensitive to that in other cases.

Another and even less worthy reason is that much of the Republican constituency is not suffering very much from the problems of the public schools. Some of these Republicans have their own children in private schools -- like many of the public school teachers themselves -- or else have public schools where affluent parents have sufficient clout to keep standards from falling too low and enough clout to get bad teachers transferred out. Where those bad teachers end up is not their problem. If the Republicans ever want to make a serious attempt to get black votes, there has never been a better time. Among the results produced by the school reforms in Texas under Governor George W. Bush is that black students in Texas have higher test scores than in any other state.

Will that carry more weight than Al Gore's histrionics about the confederate flag in South Carolina? Only if the Republicans make their case.

And that is not usually something that they do very well, if at all.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate