What's Wrong With our Schools? We Have Met the Enemy and She is Us

09/27/2010 03:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Jane White Author, 'America, Welcome to the Poorhouse'

There are many reasons to love "Waiting for 'Superman.'" It does a terrific job of detailing what's wrong with our educational system -- our kids rank 25th in the world in math proficiency, 24th in science. It also provides heart-wrenching examples of low-income parents who were awaiting the long odds of being selected for a charter school where teachers actually know what they're doing so that their kids will get their only shot at the American dream. The notion that you have to win a lottery in order for your kid to get a decent education is an outrage.

The film will make many liberals nervous because they will have to acknowledge the fact that while unions are a necessary force for good in a country such as ours that has no social contract regarding wages and pensions, they can also be a force for defending mediocrity. Along with the "rubber rooms" where disciplined teachers can hang out on full pay doing nothing until their claims are heard, there are the incompetent teachers that just get bounced from school to school.

What's tragic is that soon after the movie's release, Adrian Fenty, the mayor of Washington, D.C., lost his bid for reelection which indicates that Michelle Rhee, the chancellor who transformed D.C.'s schools, will probably be out of a job. Even though many low-income children will benefit from Fenty's and Rhee's efforts, many of their parents were angry at Fenty because shutting down poorly performing schools would mean that their kid would have to go to a different school.

This inconvenient truth about questionable parenting extends to the affluent suburbs and college-educated Moms. When I tried to rally other parents to seek the replacement of a science teacher after discovering that the man was a phys-ed major who hated science, I was met with complete indifference. These Moms could care less if their teachers couldn't teach as long as their kid gets good grades and/or awards for perfect attendance. And what does the Parent Teacher Association achieve besides a nudge-nudge, wink-wink partnership perpetuating mediocrity?

As Washington Post writer Richard Cohen recently observed, the fact that schools stink and teachers unions stink is old news. Cohen's question: "Why hasn't every (emphasis mine) kid in Washington applied to a charter school? Where are they? The answer is that they probably don't know anything about it because their parents (more likely parent) are unaware and possibly uninterested...Neither teachers unions nor lack of money are what really ails this country's schools. It is indifferent, lousy parents."