Obama vs. African Americans
How the president deployed white education secretary Arne Duncan to keep black students trapped in failing schools.
“I was considered only because of the intervention of Gramps’ boss, who was an alumnus.”
That may sound like some New York stockbroker’s son, just admitted to the upscale Trinity or Horace Mann schools. It’s actually the author of Dreams from My Father, formerly known as Barry Soetoro, touting his admission to the prestigious Punahou School, founded by Christian missionaries in 1841 and by all accounts the very best Hawaii had to offer.
Though not named in the account, “Gramps,” is Barry’s grandfather Stanley Dunham. Stan and Madelyn Dunham raised Barry after his mother Ann Dunham divorced Barry’s stepfather Lolo Soetoro, the Indonesian student she met at the University of Hawaii. In Indonesia, where Soetoro moved the family in 1967, Barry attended Menteng 01, also known as the Besuki School, as Reuters noted, “in a posh, leafy district of Jakarta, founded by Indonesia’s former colonial rulers as a school for Europeans and the Indonesian nobility.”
For Barry, only the best would do, but when it came time for college, Barry did not follow the footsteps of Kenyan student Barack Obama to the University of Hawaii. Instead he chose highly regarded Occidental College in Los Angeles. Then it was on to Columbia University and Harvard Law School. At every step, choice was the key factor, but that was not the case when the Punahou grad became president of the United States.
In the style of Bill and Hillary Clinton, the president sent daughters Sasha and Malia to the prestigious Sidwell Friends School. By contrast, government K-12 schools in the capital region are dysfunctional and dangerous, but the president did not want low-income African American parents to exercise choice. Worse, he rolled back a popular program that was already giving African Americans a better education.
The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program provided vouchers of up to $7,500 for low-income students to attend the independent schools of their choice. To roll back the program, the president deployed his white Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the former boss of Chicago schools. As the Washington Post noted, Duncan opted “to rescind scholarships awarded to 216 families for this upcoming school year.” And as the Post said, “nine out of 10 students who were shut out of the scholarship program this year are assigned to attend failing public schools.”
Duncan played basketball at Harvard but instead of handing out assists to blacks, he blocked them out, took their points off the board, and shut down their opportunities. Like segregationist George Wallace, Duncan stood in the schoolhouse door, only facing inward, blocking students from escaping some of the worst schools in the nation.
Milwaukee government schools were also bad, but a choice program enacted in 1990 and upheld by the courts, empowered parents to choose any independent school. A prime mover of the plan was state representative Annette “Polly” Williams, a liberal Jesse Jackson supporter who worked with Republican governor Tommy Thompson to get the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program up and running. For the “Rosa Parks of school choice” it wasn’t just a local issue. As Williams used to say, “Bill and Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be the only people who live in public housing who can send their kid to private school.”
The government K-12 system remains a collective farm of mediocrity, failure, and fathomless waste. Before reaching the classroom, education dollars must trickle down through multiple layers of bureaucratic sediment. That runs contrary to higher education, in which the dollar follows the scholar.
On the G.I. Bill, students could choose UCLA, Southern Methodist, Brigham Young, or Notre Dame. In similar style, a G.I. Bill for kids would empower parents to choose the schools their children attend, government or independent. The previous president’s family sent young Barry to the prestigious Punahou School, and he chose Occidental and Columbia over the University of Hawaii.
The “composite character,” so proclaimed by his official biographer David Garrow in Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, set out to completely transform America. As we now understand, that meant picking his successor and rigging the system in her favor. The transformation meant deploying the FBI and DOJ against those the composite character did not like. The transformation meant that mass murder by an Islamic terrorist was only so much “workplace violence.”
As American parents now understand, the transformation also meant turning back the clock to a time when low-income African Americans had fewer educational opportunities. Those deprived of their scholarships certainly had fewer opportunities than the president who sent his own children to Sidwell Friends, the same school the Clintons chose for Chelsea.
Meanwhile, Polly Williams passed away in 2014 and no Democrat or Republican has stepped up to take her place. If someone does have the courage, the next occupant of the White House will have an opportunity to transform America into a nation with school choice for all as a matter of basic civil rights.