Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Why Is New York's Mayor - A Self-Proclaimed "Progressive" - Challenging School Choice for Minorities and the Poor?
New York City's mayor, William De Blasio, repeatedly tells us that he is a "progressive," committed to making life better for minorities and the poor. Yet, ever since coming to office in January, he has launched a crusade against a vehicle that has the ability to rescue poor and minority children from failing public schools. That vehicle is charter schools, which are elementary or secondary schools that receive public money but have been freed from some of the rules, requirements, and regulations that apply to other public schools.
Last year, 82 percent of the students at a charter school called Success Academy, in Harlem, passed citywide mathematics exams, compared with 30 percent of the students in the city as a whole.
The first Success Academy opened in 2006, and the network, which is supported by both private and public funds, is now the largest charter-school group in New York City, with a thousand employees and 22 schools. Last fall, Mayor Bloomberg approved 45 proposals for 2014, including eight for Success Academy schools that wanted to "co-locate" - that is, move to underused space in public school buildings. Now, Mayor De Blasio has reversed nine of those decisions.
Andrew Malone, the principal of Success Academy Harlem Central, points out that on state tests, Success Academy students score far above average. "And yet, no one from the Mayor's office is asking us, 'How do you do it?'"
Charter schools around the country, argues Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University,
. . . have given thousands of low-income minority children their only shot at a decent education, which often means their only chance at a decent life. . . . Why would anybody who has any concern about minority young people - or even common decency - want to destroy what progress has already been made?
Dr. Sowell, who is black, notes that:
One big reason is the teachers' unions, one of Mr. De Blasio's biggest supporters. . . . The teachers' unions see charter schools as a threat to their members' jobs, and politicians respond to the money and the votes the teachers' unions can provide. The net result is that public schools are often run as though their main function is to provide jobs for teachers. Whether the children get a decent education is secondary, at best. . . . Not all charter schools are successful, of course, but the ones that are completely undermine the excuses for failure in the public school system as a whole. . . . Charter schools take power from politicians and bureaucrats, letting parents decide where their children will go to school.
The fact is that in an era of more enlightened teacher union leaders, charter schools were welcomed. When Albert Shanker headed the New York teachers' union, he viewed himself as an education reformer, not an advocate of a status quo that was failing poor and minority students. He believed that charter schools were to be viewed as "laboratories" of success - models for traditional public schools to emulate.
Paul Hoss, a retired public school teacher and author of Common Sense: The Missing Link in Education Reform, asks:
If Success Academy charter schools have proved to be so helpful to so many poor minority youngsters across New York City, why have neither the Bloomberg or De Blasio administration ever attempted to take this model to scale so more youngsters could benefit? . . . How about putting politics aside and doing what's best for the children of your great city?
Even many liberals have expressed dismay with Mayor De Blasio's hostility to charter schools. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen writes:
De Blasio seems cool on charter schools. He has said they have a "destructive impact" on the school system and in his campaign, demanded that they pay rent for using public school facilities. As a result, charters have become emblematic of the "two cities" mantra - one really rich, the other disproportionately poor. The rich are characterized as having their way with the school system for their own benefit. The hostility is so illogical it has to be based on raw resentment. Pardon me for suspecting that some charter school critics would rather hurt the rich than help the poor.
Under Mayor De Blasio, in Cohen's view,
New York is witnessing progressivism run amok. So far the damage has been minimal and the pushback has been fierce, but charters are in a real fight. Say what you will about New York or Washington charters, but by the usual measurements - test scores, etc. - they are succeeding, some of them stunningly so. Maybe in time the gains will prove ephemeral and failure is just over the horizon. Still, that's better than the old system. With it, failure was a certainty.
Consider the record of the Eagle Academy schools, a consortium of five schools, four of them in New York and one in Newark. The schools educate boys, mostly black and poor. The schools operate in conjunction with their own foundation, which raises about $1 million annually to help pay for the staff required to hold longer school days, offer intensive college counseling, and provide mentoring programs. Last year, on standardized tests for students in the sixth to eighth grades, only about 13 percent of black boys scored as proficient as opposed to just under 30 percent for students citywide. Across its network of schools, Eagle sent 82 percent of last year's graduating class to college, a rate significantly higher than college enrollment for black male students across the country.
The founder of New York's Success Academy, Eve Moskowitz, says that:
I have some sympathy for the view that says, '"Why can't we have one system that works for everyone?" But, speaking empirically, our system is broken. . . . I've offered to speak with the mayor many times. We disagree on some things, but I take him at his word when he says he wants to work on inequality. Although a little humility in his part would help.
Giving poor and minority students a choice of where to go to school - a choice which more affluent students already have - should be a natural cause for a "progressive" like Bill De Blasio to embrace. Why he finds himself on the opposite side, is something he will have to explain if he continues his campaign against New York's charter schools. The same is true for the Obama administration, which has cut spending for charter schools in the District of Columbia, and whose Justice Department has intervened to try to stop the state of Louisiana from expanding its charter schools. Charter schools and other forms of school choice - such as vouchers - may not be a panacea, but they do appear to be an important step in the right direction.
Jon Utley at 80: From the Beginning, A Life Touched by the Tragedies of 20th Century History
Recently, Jon Utley, a friend of this writer for more than forty years, celebrated his 80th birthday. During his life, Jon has been a successful businessman, a prolific writer, a commentator for Voice of America, and now serves as publisher of The American Conservative. After living for fifteen years in Latin America, Jon published widely on Communism and third world economic development, including for, among others, The Harvard Business Review, The Washington Post, and The Times of the Americas.
Jon's personal story is that of a man who, from the beginning, was touched by the tragedies of the 20th century. It begins with his mother, the prominent author Freda Utley, also for many years a close friend.
Born in England, Freda's social conscience in the 1920s and early 30s caused her to accept the Communist answers to the social problems of that time. Later, she married Arcadi Berdichevsky, a Russian Jew, and went to live in Moscow, where she witnessed the realities of what Communism in practice was really like. After her husband was arrested by Stalin's police, she returned to the West and told the world the truth about Communism in her book, The Dream We Lost.
Jon was two years old when his father was taken by the Moscow secret police in the middle of the night and was sentenced to a Soviet labor camp. We now know that Arcadi was executed two years later for being one of the leaders of a hunger strike, a fact that Jon discovered only several years ago when he traveled to Russia to learn the fate of his father. At a birthday celebration for Jon at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, D.C., I was one of the speakers. Among other things, I declared that, "Every man who has an untold story, needs a son like Jon to discover the truth and tell it to the world." Jon took a film crew from Boston College to Russia and produced an excellent motion picture telling the story of his father's fate.
Freda Utley discovered the evil of Communism while many intellectuals in the West were of the opinion that a workers' paradise was being created in the Soviet Union. She became a "premature anti-Communist," and her life was radically altered as a result. When she came to America, she found that, despite her impressive academic credentials, the doors to the academy were closed to her, as were most literary outlets.
Her father used to recount a story about his bachelor days. His "laundress," as the temple charwomen were called, had come to him one day with a woebegone face and said: "Sir, you have seen my pretty daughter?" "Yes, and a nice attractive girl she is." "Well, Sir, a terrible thing has happened; she has fallen and I don't know what to do." After Freda's father had commiserated with her, she remarked with a Juliet's nurse smirk: "She would fall again for a trifle."
In her memoir Odyssey of a Liberal, written in 1970, Freda points out that,
In later years I often recalled this story because it seemed apposite to the behavior of many liberal "fellow travelers" of our time. After first falling for the lure of Communist promises of a good time to be had by all and later disillusioned with "Uncle Joe Stalin" after the war, they are still today all too ready to "fall for a trifle," whenever it suits the Kremlin's purpose to appear conciliatory.
Freda Utley presented some insight into two of the intellectual giants of her time, George Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell. Shaw was blind to Communism's real nature, while Russell understood it very clearly. She recounts that when she returned to England in 1931 for a brief visit, she stayed with the Russells in Hampshire and
. . . I believed that the horrible society I was living in (Russia) was Stalin's creation and that if Lenin had lived or if Trotsky's policies had been followed, all would have been well. Bertie would bang his fist on the table and say, "No! Freda, can't you understand even now that the conditions you describe followed naturally from Lenin's premises and Lenin's acts. Will you never learn and stop being romantic about politics?
Later on, when Freda tried to enlist the help of George Bernard Shaw in gaining her husband's release from the Soviet prison, Shaw wrote on July 8, 1937, that
. . . five years will not last forever, that imprisonment under the Soviet is not as bad as it is here in the West; and that when I was in Russia and enquired about certain engineers who had been sentenced to 10 years for sabotage, I learnt that they were at large and in high favor after serving two years of their sentence.
Freda Utley's path diverged from those intellectuals who remained unaware of Communism's true nature because she put her own beliefs to the test. She writes that
. . . it was precisely because they never fully committed themselves to the Communist cause that they continued to believe in it. Those of us who fully engage ourselves in the causes we believe in submit our ideals to the hard test of personal experience. By publicly professing our opinions, we risk being proved wrong, or being defeated, and have to take our punishment. But those who refrain from risking their "lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" in any cause . . . have no right to call themselves idealists or liberals.
Jon has followed in his mother's footsteps in being an individual of high principle who has tried to learn from history - and to think for himself, rejecting the ideological blinders worn by too many on both the left and right. When the Cold War ended, there were some, in his view, who wanted to keep us on a war footing, and searched for new enemies to fight. Jon became a vigorous opponent of what he viewed as costly and unnecessary military adventures, as in Iraq. Devoted to individual liberty, he lamented the embrace of so many who called themselves conservatives for the Patriot Act, which put limits on individual freedom in the name of "national security." He opposed the idea of an American "Empire," and embraced the ideal of the American "Republic."
Freda Utley lamented the manner in which Palestinians were dispossessed in 1948 as a result of the creation of Israel. She noted that
Most of my enduring friendships have been with Jewish men and women. . . . Today, survivors of the Nazi concentration camps supported by international Jewry have themselves become super-nationalists convinced that their salvation lies with a "blood and soil" Israeli state in Palestine, founded at the price of expulsion and expropriation of its Arab inhabitants. The Zionists have repudiated the international outlook of the Jews who were my closest friends.
Jon, who strongly identifies with that part if his background which is Jewish, seeks a just peace in the Middle East which would be fair to Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Palestine and has long urged an even-handed U.S. policy in the region.
A graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Jon speaks four languages. After studying in Germany during the Allied occupation, he learned French in Paris. Later, he worked in Latin America. While based in Peru, Jon became a foreign correspondent for Knight-Ridder newspapers and married his Peruvian wife Anna.
In Febuary, 1936, Freda wrote a letter from Moscow to her mother in England. Jon was two years old:
We wished so much that you were here to see Jon. We were having dinner. First, he climbed upon his chair himself, took a plate, put it down in front of him and demanded tatoes (potatoes). He ate them beautifully himself with a fork, and then, when he had finished, he reached for cigarettes, took one, put it in his mouth and said, "mak, mak" (match). All perfectly serious and naturally! So you see what kind of grandson you have! You always said he shouldn't smoke till he was 3. It was so funny we couldn't stop laughing. He has begun to say quite a lot of words. He also says "come here" as "Komm" (German) Sude (Russian). He speaks a lot - a real Utley says Arcadi - but one can't tell what language he is trying to speak.
Now we all know what kind of grandson Freda's mother had. He has kept the ideals of his mother and father alive and has brought them into the 21st century. They would all be proud.
Jon arrived in America when he was five. He still remembers sailing into New York City and seeing the skyline and the Statue of Liberty. We were certainly lucky to get him.
Happy birthday, Jon. All of us look forward to many more. *