Walter Williams. Leonard Pitts Jr. Why Don’t We Do What Works?

July 27, 2008

by Tammy Drennan


African American children are in big trouble, and it seems hardly anyone cares – really cares.


This week in his column, Walter E. Williams chronicles the tragic shortcomings of Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, as portrayed in an HBO special. Tragic hardly describes the situation. After a long, depressing list of dysfunction, Dr. Williams points out that the high school once boasted of graduates like Thurgood Marshall and Cab Calloway and concludes:


“At Frederick Douglass’ founding, it didn’t have the resources available today. If blacks can achieve at a time when there was far greater poverty, gross discrimination and fewer opportunities, what says blacks cannot achieve today? Whether we want to own up to it or not, the welfare state has done what Jim Crow, gross discrimination and poverty could not have done. It has contributed to the breakdown of the black family structure and has helped establish a set of values alien to traditional values of high moral standards, hard work and achievement.”


Also this week, a columnist on the other end of the political spectrum, Leonard Pitts, Jr., wrapped up his education series, “What Works,” with this lament:


“We already know what works. What we lack is the will to do it. Instead, we have a hit-and-miss patchwork of programs achieving stellar results out on the fringes of the larger, failing, system. Why are they the exception and not the rule? If we know what works, why don’t we simply do it?”


The answer to the big question: Why don’t we do what works is simple. Because we’re waiting for the state to do it. That’s what the welfare state has wrought. And make no mistake, the public school system is as big a part of the welfare state as any food or rent or money hand-out program. As a matter of fact, it may be worse.


Hand-outs that pay for rent and food and other sundry things take away the will to work, to improve, to progress economically. Hand-outs that take your children’s upbringing off your hands completely destroy the only bedrock that can give us a healthy society – adults functioning as empowered and competent parents. To be sure, the first sort of hand-out impacts the health of families, but the second is the arrow through the heart, the weapon that assures total annihilation.


We’ve existed in the welfare/entitlement phase of American life for so long that only a handful of people have the will to break away. Those are the people out on Mr. Pitts’ “fringes of the larger, failing, system “


And don’t think this only affects disadvantaged minorities. It’s been seeping into middle and upper America for a long time. It may be at its worst in inner cities, but it’s gaining ground everywhere.


Let me repeat what the problem is: We’re waiting for the government to do something. A small percentage of people are not waiting, and they are the ones achieving stellar results. They don’t care what the government is doing or offering or wanting. They walk away and do what’s right.


So, the real question is, how do we get more people to do this? It is, after all, what works. This is the hard part, but as I’ve said many times before, it’s certainly no harder than trying to reform government schools, whatever reform could possibly mean in a government school.


How do we get people to turn their backs on the state and its money and do what’s right by their children? How do we get parents and educators and church leaders and communities and businesses to reject what doesn’t work – state education, and do what does work – education free of state interference?


How do we get people to care enough to act?


If we think some mass movement will do the job, we kid and defeat ourselves. It will happen one person at a time – one parent, one leader, one philanthropist, one child.


The key is to become active, to increase the rate at which one person at a time is happening, to get people excited about possibilities and freedom and whole families and the future. It will not happen unless we act, act, act. It will not happen if all we do is talk about it among ourselves. We must walk the talk.


Here’s what I’m going to do this week:


I’m sending this collection of quotations, Faith-based Considerations, to five churches, three Christian organizations and two sets of new Christian parents:


I’m sending this article, The Guts to Keep Our Freedom, to otherwise freedom-loving supporters of vouchers and other state schemes:


What can you do this week? Can you send out a link to someone? Print some articles and send them? Call together a group to discuss some article? Is there one thing you might do? This is where the solution starts – with us.