Thursday, June 01, 2006

A "Racist" Charter School and the Self-Contradictions of Conservatism

It's not surprising that the xenophobic Lou Dobbs devoted a segment of his show this evening to this story about an allegedly "racist" charter school. The gist of the controversy, as channeled through a conservative news service:

Taxpayers along with radical groups that aim to reconquer the Southwestern U.S. are funding a Hispanic K-8 school led by a principal who believes in racial segregation and sees the institution as part of a larger cultural "struggle."

The Academia Semillas del Pueblo Charter School was chartered by the Los Angeles Unified School District in 2001, local KABC radio host Doug McIntyre--who has been investigating the school for the past three weeks--told WND.

Among the school's supporters are the National Council of La Raza Charter School Development Initiative; Raza Development Fund, Inc.; and the Pasadena City College chapter of MeCHA, or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan.

"La Raza," or "the Race," is a designation by many Mexicans who see themselves as part of a transnational ethnic group they hope will one day reclaim Aztlan, the mythical birthplace of the Aztecs. In Chicano folklore, Aztlan includes California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Texas.

Now, opponents of charter schools (including those demonized "special interests," the teachers' unions) have long warned that giving taxpayer money to private schools run to promote private values, interests, and goals, is a recipe for problems like this. When we support public schools, we get public accountability in return. Charter schools have no such accountability . . . which is one reason why they don't represent the solution to our educational problems that conservatives like to claim. (In fact, they promote the division of our society into racial, ethnic, economic, and cultual ghettos . . . something conservatives, in other contexts, like to decry.)

Of course, the conservative supporters of charter schools don't talk about "eliminating accountability." Instead, they say it like this:

While charter schools must adhere to the same major laws and regulations as all other public schools, they are freed from the red tape that often diverts a school's energy and resources away from educational excellence. Instead of constantly jumping through procedural hoops, charter school leaders can focus on setting and reaching high academic standards for their students.
(I'm quoting the website of The Center for Education Reform, a D.C.,-based organization that pushes charter schools.) The key words here are "red tape" and "procedural hoops," which tap the universal frustration we've all experienced with badly-run bureaucracies to enlist our emotional support for the "freedom" of charter schools.

But if we give charter schools the "freedom" to follow their own agendas, how will we block the use of taxpayer money to fund schools that are racist or otherwise obnoxious to mainstream values? The only answer--which some politicians will undoubtedly propose if the Semillas del Pueblo story gains any traction--is to create some system for evaluating, regulating, and approving the procedures and curricula of charter schools.

Hmm. Sounds like the dreaded "red tape" and "procedural hoops" that the conservatives promised we would banish forever.

This is one of the many points of collision between the "libertarian" (essentially pro-business) piece of the conservative coalition and the "values-based" (Christianist, xenophobic) piece. It's a friction we liberals need to keep pointing out and exacerbating. If either piece drops out of the Republican coalition, the party will find it damned hard to keep winning elections.

And remember: In political rhetoric, "red tape" and "bureaucracy" generally equal "rules I'd rather not follow--but which I'm ready to impose on people I don't like." Think of this next time you feel yourself getting sucked in by some conservative's "anti-bureaucracy" rant.

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