Arguing that Education Funding is Unnecessary and that the “Culture of Poverty” is Due to a Lack of Education

“There really shouldn’t be public schools, should there?”

This assertion posed in the form of a question from by Fox News host Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery hints at the true position of an education reform movement pursued with special vigor by the GOP. It’s a movement bent on altering an education system that has served the nation fairly well for most of its history.

Make no mistake: the public education system isn’t perfect. The shortcomings of public education have been well documented. Still, the slow but concerted dissolution of public schools in favor of a system that originally sprang up as a protest against integration is no cure.

The unspoken but functional rationale of this movement springs from the conceit that some people simply aren’t equipped to learn. Their belief in the fundamental inferiority of African Americans (and, subsequently, other minority populations) is clear when advocates assert that their movement is only fit for those who are “ready to learn“. This is why charters are selective in who they educate. A system that only educates those lucky enough to be a part of the select runs counter to the notion of an educated citizenry necessary for a true meritocracy.

There have always been popularly supported elected officials who are comfortable allowing some citizens to be left behind in education because they never expected or wanted these citizens to be fully a part of the American fabric. Allowing the lucky to solidify advantages for their children and leaving the rest to wither on the vine increases our already disturbing inequality, but this is how they want things. For them, this isn’t prejudice; it’s common sense.

It’s especially rich that this movement, which hopes to create a system that educates only the lucky and privileged is, at the same time, quick to justify their “common sense” by arguing that hostility to education is endemic to a “Culture of Poverty.”

If a primary cause of persistent poverty is lack of education, a concerted and committed effort to strengthen our public education system makes more sense than outsourcing it to those who are allowed to pick and choose who they think redeemable.

Mississippi state Rep. Gene Alday recently argued that their public schools don’t need any more funding because black people receive “welfare checks”. Rep. Alday’s racism is what’s needed to reconcile this dissonance. If you believe that those who would benefit from additional funding are somehow beyond redemption, it makes sense to simultaneously argue that education funding is unnecessary and that the “culture of poverty” is due to a lack of education.

This logic animates an education reform regime that says, instead of providing more studied and careful aid, fewer resources for struggling schools is the proper response to poor results. The continued effort to defund any research in any field that challenges this logic is further proof of the their belief in inherited inferiority. Hopefully, now that the logic of this movement is being stated plainly we’ll be able to have a true debate on the merits of their ideas.

As the current cover story here at the Washington Monthly emphasizes, we must move past the idea that structural inequalities are a result of a culture that justifies the stuctural inequalities themselves. Once we do, we will move forward productively. It’s time for a new framework that maximizes our potential and the potential of the nation.