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Jewish World Review May 14, 2001 / 21 Iyar, 5761

Thomas Sowell

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Blacks, Hispanics and education -- AN education bill seems to be moving through Congress to some sort of bipartisan consensus. Like many other bipartisan measures, it serves the short-term interests of Democrats and Republicans, not the long-term interests of the public.

Despite some largely cosmetic reforms, what the pending legislation essentially represents is spending more money on the status quo. "Improving education" is political Newspeak for producing more expensive incompetence. There will be no vouchers and nothing to force the education establishment to start educating, so that American children do not continue finishing at or near the bottom in international tests.

Perhaps this was politically inevitable, especially with the Senate tied 50-50. But if the public has lost, then at least they need to know that they lost, if only so that they can keep that in mind when next year's congressional elections come along.

Nobody has lost bigger than blacks because nobody needs better education more. Ghetto schools are too often dumping grounds for teachers who could not make it in middle-class neighborhoods, where parents are better able to get what they want for their children or to put those children in private schools if they don't.

Blacks have become the most politically expendable group in America, because the black vote is so automatically and overwhelmingly for the Democrats that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are under any real pressure to take what blacks want seriously.

Polls show repeatedly that blacks are the strongest supporters of vouchers, as they should be, since their children get the worst deal in the public schools. But not even the Congressional Black Caucus takes that seriously -- and certainly not as seriously as they take the teachers' unions, which bitterly oppose vouchers and are the 800-pound gorillas of the Democratic Party.

Now that the Hispanic population has become larger than the black population, the political future for blacks looks even less promising. Moreover, Hispanics do not vote so overwhelmingly for one party that neither party takes their interests into account.

While there has been some talk of a black-Hispanic political coalition, the chances of that are slim indeed. One of the many tragedies of the welfare state is that freebies given out by government turn different groups into rivals for a position at the public trough.

Black and Hispanic politicians have already been jockeying for position when it comes to dividing the political spoils, and that is only likely to get worse as Hispanics get more political experience and have the votes up for bid to make white politicians sit up and take notice.

There is also a growing awareness within the Hispanic community that many of the things their supposed liberal friends did for them have been counterproductive. Bilingualism is a classic example.

Under so-called bilingual education, many Hispanic youngsters were shunted off into their own little ghetto programs, where they spoke mostly Spanish for years and fell behind academically. Yet these programs, promoted by activists who have been financed by politically correct foundations, were for years a sacred cow and anybody who dared to criticize them was denounced as "racist" if white and a "traitor" if Hispanic.

As with vouchers, some Republicans may have been ideologically opposed to bilingualism, but they really had no personal stake in the issue, one way or the other, since the children of affluent Republicans were usually not affected by these programs. When California businessman Ron Unz launched a crusade against these destructive bilingual programs, Republicans wanted no part of his efforts to get Hispanic youngsters taught in English.

Despite the opposition of both political parties and virtually all of the California media, Unz' ballot initiative to end bilingual programs won at the polls. Then a remarkable thing happened. Hispanic youngsters who were taught in English began to improve dramatically in their academic work. Even some Hispanics who had initially opposed Unz were won over to his side and now support teaching in English.

Is something similar possible with blacks? Or is the black "leadership" too much of a captive of white liberal Democrats and too heavily invested in policies and programs that are counterproductive for the black population at large?

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate