Little Miss Ruffit

Cried, “Mom, lets slough it

Who needs that school anyway?”

Said Mom, “Dear, we do.

Must work to feed you

You’ll learn your stuff there today.”

I see no handy solution to the “either stuck-at-home or stuck-at-work” dilemma of the Ruffit family. And I have sympathy, not only for the parent and child but, yes, for the public school systems – especially those in large cities.

Experts of every mind are announcing their own version of the ideal technique for reopening schools, and many of these sound plausible. This sort of civic conversation is good. Nevertheless, what stays plain and most regrettable is the continued assumption of most “authorities” that a small collection of government persons who are total strangers to both the individual child and parent still will be deciding where those kids from poor families in this neighborhood will learn their ABCs.

These outsiders will order the child to a school that the parents are unable to refuse because they can’t afford either to move to some well-set suburb or pay tuition at the private school they would prefer. They have tried to enroll Susie in the few charter schools that are allowed by the state over the howls of the union, but all are chock full or too distant.

One can admire the seriousness with which government authorities have taken today’s unique challenge; they have redesigned their programs for public schools with variety across the state. But sheer zeal is no solution to this deeper problem of choice for the poor, which is with us yet from the 19th century at the dawn of public education as we know it.

The motivation at that time was largely religious prejudice to be institutionalized in the kinds of schools which – with compulsory assignment of the poor – appeared most likely to rescue young minds from their ignorant parents’ un-American ideas.

I wish we could give this sudden swing toward decentralization of public schools three cheers as a retreat from prejudice and a salute to the dignity of the poor. Sadly, it is neither. The union can rest easy. There is no immediate threat to its dominion. And you mothers and fathers – best you keep working. You can still have late dinner at home and listen to your child’s experience of the day, wishing you could do something to help her.

I wonder what she makes of the role of parents in this society.

Pity Ms. Ruffit’s

Fate to go snuff its

Message from who knows where.

Well, sorry, but that’s how

We keep our world now.

Of parents so poor who’ll care?

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