New York Times columnist Mykoto Rich‘s lede sounds promising in her Obama to Report Widening of Initiative for Black and Latino Boys:
President Obama will announce on Monday that 60 of the nation’s largest school districts are joining his initiative to improve the educational futures of young African-American and Hispanic boys, beginning in preschool and extending through high school graduation.
But the most important point comes in the fourth paragraph:
No new federal spending is attached to the initiative. The new efforts, which will also seek support from the nonprofit and private sectors, are being coordinated by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban school districts.
In the U.S., “No new federal spending” equals “This really doesn’t matter.”
Can you imagine no new federal spending being attached to any military initiative?
What about no new federal spending to bail out the banks?
Of course not. But the U.S. has made a clear choice: Fund the interests of the rich and powerful (for them, the dirty money of government isn’t so dirty) and leave the fortunes of the impoverished and victims of inequity to the Invisible Hand of the free market.
We may want to note that at least the Obama administration has made a somewhat bold move to acknowledge the crippling disadvantages faced by African American and Latino boys in the U.S.—and here we should pause and make sure we acknowledge that as the civil rights issue of our time. And because of that acknowledgement, the NYT makes a rare concession to these facts, as Rich explains late in her piece:
Black and Latino students have long experienced a pattern of inequality along racial lines in American schools. According to data from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, black and Latino students are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than white students and attend schools with less-experienced teachers. Many also attend schools that do not offer advanced math and science courses.
Boys in particular are at a disadvantage. Black and Latino boys are less likely to graduate from high school than white boys, but also less likely than African-American or Latino girls. And in elementary school, they already fall far behind their white counterparts in reading skills: According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of standardized tests administered to a random sampling of American children, only 14 percent of black boys and 18 percent of Hispanic boys scored proficient or above on the fourth-grade reading tests in 2013, compared with 42 percent of white boys and 21 percent of both black and Hispanic girls.
But without government spending, initiatives are nothing more than rhetoric and distraction—further evidence of our commitment to capitalism first and possibly to the exclusion of democracy and equity, as I have examined before:
More difficult to confront than either mendacity or foma, it appears, is the hard truth that the human pursuit of equity must come before merit can matter and that in order to achieve that possibility, the human condition must commit to a spirit of community and collaboration, not competition.
Regretfully, most in power are apt to continue to not let that cat out of the bag.
Capitalism and the free market, however, are not the domains of ethical and moral social action. The human experience in the U.S. has shown us time and again that left unfettered, that market feeds itself on the workers in order to fatten the owners.
The lives and faces of African American and Latino boys in the U.S. are the regrettable portraits of our failures as a people. We are now confronted with an option to embrace our collective power and shared humanity—that which is government, the public sphere, the Commons.
There is often a reason a cliche becomes a cliche—the wisdom of all that is True becomes repeated until we have cliche. In the U.S., our new motto should be: Put your money where your mouth is.
Until then, we remain malnourished by the empty calories of rhetoric.
NOTE: For an alternative view, please read Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism.