Sen. Gumm's Rearguard Action

Forty-six summers ago, a certain Southern Democrat stood blocking the schoolhouse door to prevent some students from entering. Today, certain politicians stand blocking the schoolhouse door to prevent students from leaving.

And make no mistake, many Oklahomans would leave if they could. As I wrote last Sunday in The Oklahoman:
Here at home, a survey of 1,200 likely Oklahoma voters (margin of error of +/- 3 percent) asked the decidedly unloaded question: "If it were your decision and you could select any type of school, what type of school would you select in order to obtain the best education for your child?"

Seventeen percent said they would choose a regular public school. Eighty-three percent said they would choose something else.

That's not a misprint. Only 17 percent said they would choose a regular public school. The rest would choose a private school (41 percent), home school (19 percent), charter school (17 percent), or virtual school (6 percent).
Today in The Oklahoman, state Sen. Jay Paul Gumm (D-Durant) refuted the survey wisely didn't attempt to refute the survey. He's been around politics long enough to know that a sample size of 1,200 is uncommonly large for Oklahoma, and that there's not much point in questioning the accuracy of a poll from a national firm whose polls have been used by MSNBC, Time, Newsweek, and USA Today, and have been cited as some of the nation's most accurate by National Journal's "Hotline" and Survey USA.

No, Gumm pretty much acknowledges that public schools are about as popular today as Stewart Cink. But he can explain it. You see, those of us who argue for school choice do so in order "to weaken people's confidence in public schools."
Dutcher cites opinion polls suggesting Oklahomans are losing confidence in public schools. No wonder, given the relentless attacks on public schools repeatedly launched by him and others who share his view.
Did you catch that? Sure, the people are losing confidence in public schools. But it's not because they are discerning consumers and are wise enough to know what they know. It's not because the product is defective; it's because some taxpayers have the temerity to point out that the product is defective. The 400-pound woman has heart disease not because she inhales Big Macs and bon bons, but because her doctor has the audacity to diagnose her problem and give it to her straight.

Gumm is wrong on other points also. He criticizes "voucher schemes" in which "taxpayer dollars are stripped from public education and transferred to private schools." But as Gumm (hopefully) knows, vouchers are unconstitutional in Oklahoma. I oppose them. I favor solutions in which no taxpayer dollars are involved.

Gumm implies that public schools must take all comers. But that's just not so.

Gumm also writes:
I am reminded of the words of President Harry Truman, "Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one." It takes "carpenters"—including parents, teachers and community leaders—to build public schools and truly improve educational opportunity for all, which should be our focus.
Actually, it doesn’t take carpenters to build public schools. It simply takes politicians who have the power of the sword, who use force to provide public schools with the money and the students they could never attract on their own. (Repeat after me: 83 to 17.) Now as it happens, some of us have actually helped to build schools. From scratch. Rather than simply taxing, spending, regulating, and press releasing, some people actually roll up their sleeves and build schools.

Gumm says school choice "would lead to the creation of an academic elite based on the wealth of parents rather than the talent of children. Such an elitist system [is] at odds with our national value of 'all are created equal.'" But of course, Gumm is describing the system we currently have. A system "based on the wealth of parents." That's the very injustice that people like Gumm's colleagues Judy Eason-McIntyre and Jabar Shumate (elitists?) are trying to rectify.

Look, with numbers like 83 to 17, defenders of the status quo have no choice but to use force. They must block the schoolhouse door to keep the children trapped inside. David Boaz puts it well in his book The Politics of Freedom:
Every argument against choice made by the education establishment reveals the contempt that establishment has for its own product. School boards, superintendents, and teacher unions are convinced that no one would attend public schools if they had the choice. Like Fidel Castro and former postmaster general Anthony Frank, they have a keen sense of the consumer demand for their product and are fighting a rearguard action to protect their monopoly.
But school choice marches on, and history won't look kindly on those who attempted to block the door, denying some children their only shot at the American dream. As Cato's Adam Schaeffer writes, "Choice opponents are on the wrong side of right and the wrong side of history."

Cross-posted at Choice Remarks

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