Editor’s note: A series of attacks tying school choice to segregation has prompted rebuttals from conservative and libertarian writers. Here, Professor John E. Coons, who occasionally sparred with Milton Friedman in the early years of the school choice movement, responds from a different perspective.
Recently, the New York Times featured a guest column and cartoon demonizing the empowerment of low-income families to choose private schools. Written by one Katherine Stewart, it features recall of tidbits from and about racial segregationists of the 19th century and of the 1950s following Brown v. Board. The author makes plain, in almost Trump-like prose, that, to her, the whole effort to liberate the poor from compulsory assignment to a “government school” resonates with racism. I am surprised by the Times‘ featuring such a screed; to be sure, the paper has consistently opposed choice for the poor, but one would have expected comment at a superior level.
The editorial prefers the label “public” for those schools operated by the state. (My own favorite tag: “state schools.”) The term “public” is, of course, interesting and ambiguous. Our sidewalks are “public” – anyone can walk or stand (or recline?) on them. The park is public. It welcomes all, standing or sitting. (Though some charge a fee. Relevant?) Our courts are ordinarily public, and I suppose one can visit police stations, though briefly. Are they public? Our legislator’s office, the public library, the fire department, the Army post, the skating rink — you name it. What makes for “public?” Continue Reading →