Few things have undermined minorities over the past 40 years more than inner-city public-school systems. Rich and middle-class Americans already have school choice. They can move. Neighborhoods with high-performing systems have far higher homes values, shutting poorer people out. Teachers’ unions use tax dollars, often through compelled dues, to help elect politicians who preserve the status quo — which, functionally, is the racial segregation of schools.
One of the most popular arguments against school choice is that granting parents the freedom to pick better schools would only weaken traditional ones. Well, imagine making this argument about any other area of life: “Hey, you can’t leave this supermarket because we’re going to suck even more.” No one would accept that logic. Yet they do for their kids’ education. Maybe when 77 percent of high-school graduates can’t make it through Goodnight Moon, someone will do something. We’re not that far off.
When you look at American culture in 1960 and 1970 on the issue of race, there was a massive transformation. Can you talk a little bit about that?
The two-parent family is still a norm [back in 1960], even with poor black people. Welfare is a mean-spirited little program where you’ve always got the social worker knocking on the door and you’re encouraged not to stay on it for very long. There’s a general idea that how Martin Luther King looked at things was the standard and reasonable way of thinking about race: “Let’s get rid of segregation, view people by the content of their character.”
You go to 1970 and there’s this whole new mood—the black power mood. The new idea is, “We can’t do our best because you won’t let us. And therefore you have to accept that we won’t do our best, and that sometimes we’ll do our worst.” Gradually the notion settles in that doing your worst or not doing your best is almost what black authenticity is, because you stand as a totemic demonstration of white racism. 1960s racism is about segregation. By 1970, it’s standard in certain circles that racism is still present and indestructable because it’s structural.
Because of the welfare revolution in 1966, it starts to become regular for people to just stay on welfare, with no one concerned about whether they get job training. The knocking on the door dwindles in the early ’70s, and it becomes this multigenerational program. It’s not anybody’s fault. Black America turned upside down between ’60 and ’70.
I think that civil rights up to about 1966 and [black activist] Stokely Carmichael and people yelling “black power” and not knowing what it meant—that’s where it went wrong. And we’re still stuck talking about these things the way those people did.