When liberals want to make the case for more money for school reform to address the educational deficits of disadvantaged children, they often invoke the mantra that “they are all our children.” There is a major controversy that has developed in St. Louis over a state law that, in the name of “social justice,” gives parents in unaccredited school districts the right to transfer their child to an accredited school district in that county or adjoining county. Thus, for example, any child in the Normandy or Riverview Gardens school districts — both poor, heavily minority districts, which are the two current unaccredited in the St. Louis metro area — is entitled to attend, say Clayton, the best district in the area, with the highest per pupil spending and the one in which I happen to live. Indeed, there is nothing to prevent the entire 6,000 student body of Riverview and 4,000 student body of Normandy from deciding overnight to transfer to a small district such as Clayton, and the law does not say how Clayton is supposed to accommodate such an influx of new pupils. Not to worry, said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which has been cheer-leading in support of the law; as the newspaper has put it on several occasions (see most recently August 19), “they are all our children.”
In response to the Post-Dispatch, I sent the following reply: I would just like to note for the record that they are not all my children — not the 4 billion or so on the planet, not the 200 million in the U.S., not the over 500,000 in the St Louis metro area, and not the roughly 2,000 in the Clayton school district (including the 50 we just added from Normandy and Riverview). I have only two children. These are the only two I am responsible for. To the extent I help others, it is by choice and not obligation. I do understand the moral and practical imperative to try to help disadvantaged kids, but what would most help them most are their own parents. It does not take a village to raise kids. It takes parents, preferably two (although an exceptional parent can do it alone). Once we get this straight, we may be in a better position to diagnose and solve the problems of Normandy and Riverview Gardens and other such districts, although, unfortunately, some problems may not be solvable, especially when we refuse to correctly identify the nature of the problem.
Interestingly, the Post-Dispatch and the liberal constituencies backing the law, including the ACLU, place great stock in “school choice” for the Normandy and Riverview Gardens parents, albeit limited to public school choice. One Riverview parent had to point out that her first preference would be to send her child to the nearby Lutheran school, which would also be a considerably cheaper use of tax dollars than busing Riverview students long distances to Clayton and other outer suburbs. Apparently, “choice” and “they are all our children” only goes so far.