Charter schools and their enemies

On page iii of the book, the words “To those children whose futures hang in the balance” are inscribed. As I had already been listening to the audiobook online, the sight of those words brought a feeling perhaps best described as “Urgent Fury” to my being. It is why I have taken so long to read it. I had to leave off from time to time to cool down and remind myself that all men are liars who devour widows’ houses and for a pretence make long prayer. How anyone could exploit the children of their own nation in pursuit of their own adult interests escaped me. Charter schools had already proven themselves in turning out students who were well behaved and scoring well academically not only in core subjects like English and Math but in the Arts and, perhaps more importantly, in learning to work and live well with others. Yet they all faced opposition from the educational apparatchik who have manifested their almost urgently insatiable lust to tear charter schools down and stamp out even the memory of them. This book needs to be read by anyone who cares about the proper education of children and who has the current and future well-being of his nation at heart.

“Charter schools and their enemies” has six chapters, all packed with well-researched facts and data and the understanding and wisdom of Thomas Sowell delivered to the reader in easily assimilated form. Chapter 2 is packed with Charter School results compared with those of comparable public schools. Three Appendices with various data are included and the interested reader can get back to the sources which, hopefully, are still available.

Comparisons and Comparability

This is the title of Chapter 1 of the book and it struck me immediately as being the book’s essential foundation. Thomas Sowell takes care to emphasize that “apples should be compared to apples”. Not only that, but in comparative studies like the work in this book, it is necessary to ensure that environment, backgrounds, socioeconomic status and so forth are as similar as can be found. In short, if we are to compare one thing or one category to another, in this case, educational outcomes produced by charter schools versus traditional public schools, we need to be as stringent as when conducting scientific experiments to ensure that the scientific method is employed. Reading carefully these first six pages is important.

A means of self-enrichment

Reading Chapters 3 to 6 blurred them into a miasma of how the education establishment in the United States has become a monolith for maintaining personal income for those in the Teachers Unions and for keeping politicians in power. It is like a business that will sell you anything as long as you’re willing to pay for it. Worse, that said business has the legal backing to force you to pay for it whether you like what you’re paying for or not. It’s like the waiter at that restaurant who, after you’ve ordered your wine, says “Very good choice, Sir. The April 2010 was much better than the March 2011” even if no other wine connoisseur within tasting reach would ever think of ordering such substandard wine. Makes you wonder why a supposedly good restaurant would carry such wine. Public schools have no problem getting students because it is compulsory for children to attend public school unless they have parents rich enough to put them in private schools or who happen to win the lottery that gets them into charter schools. I will not say more except that reading it was very vexing for me, and I would definitely encourage you to get a copy and read it for yourself if you want to know why. One thing I wish that Thomas Sowell could have mentioned more was the status of homeschooling in the United States.

You might wonder why a Singaporean would be so absorbed by the account of how charter schools are having to fight for their lives in the United States. It’s because I see the same symptoms where I am now.

Additional resources you might be interested in

Thomas Sowell talks about the book on Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson.

An Economist Looks at 90: Tom Sowell on Charter Schools and their Enemies.

See also Alan Weiss’ videos and podcast:

“Writing on the Wall”

Episode 2: Ill educated and proud of it

Episode 117: When I was in Grammar School

Episode 143: Not everyone should go to college

“The Uncomfortable Truth”

Episode 49: Why we eat our young

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