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Another One Rides the Bus By: Lloyd Billingsley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, July 24, 2007

We now know how former senator and current Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards plans to knit together the “two Americas”: he will be busing the children of one America an hour across town to go to school.

On a recent swing through the South, he told reporters, “We still have two public school systems in this country…They’re not segregated just based on race. They’re segregated, to a large extent, based on economics, which has racial implications.” Edwards observed, “if you live in a wealthy suburban area, the odds are very high that your child will get a very good public school education. If you live in the inner city or if you live in a poor rural area, the odds of that go down dramatically.”


The candidate mentioned “very specific things we can do” to improve matters. One specific thing we can do, according to Edwards, is to spend millions of dollars on forced racial busing.


Edwards’ “economic integration programs” would set-aside $100 million to finance “buses and other resources for schools.” He wants move some kids from middle-class suburbia to low-income areas, and vice versa. He shows little awareness that this approach has been tried before, and found wanting.


The establishment imposed busing as a remedy for “white flight” from inner cities, and actual segregation, in which black children were openly barred, on racial grounds, from attending certain schools. Striking down such discrimination was the right thing to do, but not enough for the left-wing establishment, which launched a massive plan of racial gerrymandering. Under the busing regime, ordered by activist judges, kids did not attend school in their neighborhood. Instead, districts packed kids into crowded buses for rides, sometimes of an hour or more, to distant schools where sitting next to a student of a different skin color was supposed make up for past discrimination, allow the establishment to feel good about itself, and promote better student achievement across the board. It didn’t work out that way, but busing had consequences.


The long trips – sometimes an hour or more – consumed valuable time, limited students ability to participate in sports and after-school programs, and exposed children to danger, both in traffic and from unruly fellow students. The buses consumed a lot of energy, and the “energy crisis” was looming. The practice fueled resentment from parents who had worked hard to buy a home in an area with supposedly good schools, only to have the courts and establishment bureaucrats trump their best efforts. There are reports of children bused to schools less integrated than those in their own neighborhoods.


Even black leaders such as Polly Williams, a Wisconsin Democrat and Jesse Jackson supporter, came to reject busing as patronizing and ineffective. Academics find no evidence that it increased student achievement. Only tougher standards, harder work, higher motivation, and more skilled teachers can produce that, as Jaime Escalante showed.


Edwards initiative is based merely upon location, and the internal combustion engine.


The busing dinosaur died in the 1990s, and the disparities that exist today are not old- style segregation. It is a reality that fails to conform with politically correct notions of diversity. That is, all institutions must reflect the ethnic proportions of the population. If they don’t, as this orthodoxy goes, it is solely because of discrimination and can be remedied only by government action. Actually, conditions reflect personal differences, effort, and choice – and Edwards has a problem with choice.


He favors a “magnet school” approach and touts “housing vouchers” to help low-income families move to better neighborhoods. The supposition here is schools are better in those environs. District pitchmen may sell that idea to parents, but its not necessarily true. Overall student achievement lags in America, in California in particular, despite increased spending. Recall the 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, which charged that things were so bad one could assume an enemy had done this. Not much has changed since then. Many of the best high-school grads need remedial math and English. Many foreign nations excel American education, and companies must look abroad to find competent workers. The problem is systemic, and Edwards’s $100 million for buses does nothing to challenge a system that even a teacher union boss like Albert Shanker compared to a planned communist economy.


The system is a vast collective farm of ignorance, mediocrity, political correctness and corruption. Money must trickle down through four absorbent layers of bureaucratic sediment before reaching actual kids in the classroom. In upscale suburbs or the inner city, the kids there are essentially captives, necessary to keep the money coming in. They go where district bosses tell them. Edwards’ plan does little to change that. Indeed, it would expand the education establishment, the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, as William Bennett observed. Edwards’ use of the dreaded term “voucher” will disturb nobody in the establishment because liberals love the vouchers already in effect.


Food stamps are vouchers that do not oblige recipients to shop at government commissaries. Likewise, housing vouchers do not require recipients to live in a government shelter. The housing vouchers Edwards wants represent little change and actually short-change low-income people. What they need is a voucher they can use to send their children to the school of their choice, including private or parochial schools.


Many in the education and political establishment send their own children to private and parochial schools while working three shifts to deny that choice to low-income blacks and everybody else. In this ethos, people are welcome to choose among 37 brands of automobiles and computers, or even multiple candidates in an election, but they must be prevented, by any means necessary, from choosing the schools their children attend. This does not sit well with some black politicians. Recall the judgment of Polly Williams, sponsor of a choice program in Milwaukee, that “Bill and Hillary Clinton should not be the only people who live in public housing who get to send their kids to private schools.”


It is a matter of record that non-government schools do a better job with less money. They are also more racially integrated and have fewer problems with crime and violence. In 2007, there are no valid educational, economic, social or constitutional arguments against parental choice in education. There is only the reactionary political argument to preserve a failed, irreformable system tendered by teacher cartels and bureaucrats whose single idea for reform is to spend more money.


John Edwards’ spending plan will boost their fortunes but hinder those who need help the most. Those people need choice, and he offers them a 90-minute bus ride to a government school, selected by somebody else, in a bad part of town. Even if they can sit in any seat on that bus, it’s still same as the old boss. A wealthy white southerner is telling blacks that Massa still knows best.

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of From Mainline to Sideline, the Social Witness of the National Council of Churches, and Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s.

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