Maybe it was a slow news week at the DMN, or maybe editorial columnist and generally thoughtful neighborhood resident Rod Dreher needed to replenish his email inbox with comments from unhappy readers. Regardless, his Sunday column in the DMN‘s Points section, "Woodrow a good choice — if you’re white", isn’t going to earn him any bonus points among neighborhood parents with kids at Woodrow (full disclosure: myself included).
Read the column yourself to form your own opinion, but the clear message is that the group of parents profiled last week in the DMN (and commented on here) who initiated a "Choose Woodrow" campaign (I have one of the signs on my porch but I didn’t help organize the group) are interested only in white kids, to the educational and cultural exclusion of Hispanics and blacks at Woodrow. And the entire campaign, Dreher says, is no more than an effort by white parents to attract more white students solely to boost the school’s test ratings with the Texas Education Agency.
As partial evidence for all of this, Dreher writes that Woodrow principal Ruth Vail — a Hispanic who is a neighborhood resident and Woodrow graduate herself — is sending her sixth-grader to St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School, as if that decision somehow makes a mockery of Vail’s comments in the earlier DMN story about her efforts to educate all of Woodrow’s students — not just the white ones.
Using as evidence Ms. Vail’s educational choice for her own daughter — I have no idea why she made that choice, nor is it any of my business (or Dreher’s or other DMN readers’) — is a low blow that has no bearing on this situation. I agree that choice doesn’t help inspire confidence in DISD, but we as taxpayers aren’t paying Ms. Vail to use her child’s educational experience as an inspriation to the rest of us; we’re paying her to teach our neighborhood’s kids, and how she chooses to educate her child is her call and not mine or Dreher’s or anyone else’s. Like any parent living in Dallas, Ms. Vail is free to send her child to whatever school she feels is best — provided, of course, she can afford the private school tuition. In fact, Dreher himself pointed out awhile back that he wasn’t aware of a single senior DMN editorial official who sends his/her children to a DISD school. Any guesses why that might be or what that might mean for the DMN’s commitment to cover public education fairly and impartially?
Dreher correctly writes that Woodrow’s white students pass the TAKS math and science numbers in disproportionately higher numbers than Hispanic or black students, buttressing this argument by citing a 2006 State of Texas study that "deemed half of Woodrow’s white seniors ‘college ready’ in English and math. Hispanics? Try 7 percent. Blacks? Four." He then concludes that "white Woodrow parents don’t have to worry about their kids suffering academically from attending a majority-minority school where black and Hispanic academic performance is a disaster area. Most whites take college-track courses — and aren’t held back by underachieving minorities, who are in different classrooms."
That argument makes no sense: The state says half of Woodrow’s white students are "college ready", so Dreher concludes that "white Woodrow parents don’t have to worry about their kids suffering academically"? Well, what about the other 50% of white students who aren’t "college ready"? Shouldn’t those parents be worried, along with the 93% of Hispanic parents and 96% of black parents whose students aren’t deemed by the state to be "college ready"?
The truth of the matter, as far as I understand it, is that any student of any race or ethnicity is free to sign up for any Advanced Placement course of any type at the DISD school he or she is attending; being white is not and should not be a pre-requisite. But those courses are tough: I know this because I’ve watched our son suffer through two of them already, and he’s just a sophomore who will be enrolling in three or four more AP courses before he leaves Woodrow. And I can assure you of this: Our son would not be signing up for these AP courses if we didn’t force him to: They’re way too much work and too much stress compared with the non-AP and non pre-AP courses offered at Woodrow. Like virtually every other student — white, black or Hispanic, high-achievers or otherwise — our son would take the easy way out if we, his fairly vigilant parents, didn’t force him to do otherwise.
Rather than blaming DISD or Woodrow’s principal for this disparity (after all, the school can’t force a student to take a non-required class he or she refuses to take), Dreher needs to focus his blame on the parents who, for whatever valid or invalid reason, choose not to be involved in their child’s education. There is no doubt that some parents, by virtue of economics, hold down multiple jobs to pay the bills; but if those same parents refuse to pressure their children to take challenging courses, and if they aren’t at home enough to force their child to do the homework necessary to stay eligible to remain in the class, how is that DISD’s fault? Or more to the point of Dreher’s column, how is that the fault of other parents in the neighborhood?
Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of my wife and I to help our child wring the most he can out of his educational experience, but it would be crossing the line — and Dreher would be among the first to point this out — were we to start imposing our value system on someone else’s kid … much as I would be willing to do just that, but for the obvious legal, moral and ethical consequences.
Neighborhood parents’ "Choose Woodrow" campaign is simply a well-intentioned group of parents’ effort to improve a school they know can be better. Making their campaign out to be some type of self-absorbed scam endorsing a hidden agenda of educational racism at the expense of other neighborhood students is wrong-headed, to put it mildly.
And one more thing: Dreher’s arguments were long on accusations and short on solutions. They make me wonder just how much time he spent in DISD schools soaking in the environment and working with students — all of the students — before he took it upon himself to condemn this group of parents for offering a solution to a problem many of us have experienced up-close-and-personal for years.
Dallas has no shortage of well-meaning academics, politicians and writers who from afar seem able to divine what’s wrong with DISD and seem more than happy to mail in the answers to all of the district’s problems. Hey, these problems aren’t going away anytime soon — why don’t you guys actually get your hands dirty at a DISD school for a few months, and then let’s see what you have to say.
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