Sunday, September 14, 2008

OK, LTC, What's Your Solution For Our Schools?

If I'm going to tell George Will that the schools he's so in love with are nice, but aren't a solution, it's only fair to ask: hey, bucko, you got any better ideas?

Glad I asked. Because as a matter of fact, I do. It's deceptively simple, too:

Good jobs.

Study after study after study, across the decades, has shown that the main determinant of how kids do in school is how their parents are doing. So let's fix that.

If we're living in a world where big corporations simply use up their employees and spit them out when they've extracted all the value they can get, then of course we're going to have problems with our schools. If Mom and Dad both need to work just to pay the bills, and they have to be available to put in overtime whenever the boss says so, then the schools aren't going to be able to fill the void their absence leaves. If kids come from environments where not many people work, and the jobs those people have are dead-end jobs, then they're going to wind up on the streets. Maybe Cristo Rey can rescue some of those kids, but it's a losing battle.

We need jobs where parents work hard for eight hours a day, then go home and look after their kids. We, as a society, have to say that employers only have a claim on a limited number of hours, so that those employees have plenty of time to raise their children, so they can be family members and community members the rest of the time.

We need for those jobs to pay enough so that a single parent can support a kid or two on one job, or so that one parent working full-time and one parent working part-time can support a family without difficulty.

We need universal health care so that parents don't have to worry about making sure their kids get to the doctor, and so that the parents themselves can stay healthy and stay productive. Not to mention, so that increases in health costs don't come out of Mom and Dad's paychecks.

We need enough decent jobs so that people who would like a job but have given up looking, come back into the workforce. We need enough decent jobs so that people whose lives have been only marginally connected to the working world become regular workers, and pass those habits to their kids. Not to mention, so that they believe education's not a waste of time and energy, and lean on their kids to learn in school. To shrink the void that the streets fill.

There's one additional thing, unrelated to jobs, that might also help. This 'War On Drugs' business - can we admit that it's been a failure, that the WOD itself is what makes illegal drugs such a profitable enterprise, and that drug money is what makes the streets more compelling than the schools - not to mention, what causes too many young black men to end up dead or in prison, instead of raising their children.

Schools work in the context of a society that supports their mission. Absent that supportive society, the occasional Cristo Rey will rescue some high-risk kids, but it'll be rescue work, and it'll be swimming against the current. What we need to do is get the current flowing in the right direction, to reduce the number of kids that need to be rescued in the first place. And we do that by creating jobs, and making sure they're good ones. And pulling the rug out from under the inner-city drug kingpins.

may continually throw some of the players into prison, but that they're replaced just as quickly? And that the

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