Bari Weiss, is the former New York Times journalist who resigned in in July of 2020 in protest over the stifling conformity and illiberalism of the paper of record. Now she runs a phenomenally successful substack newsletter named Common Sense. It is always a good read.
Today’s edition has a column by Suzy Weiss titled “Revenge of the Covid Moms”. In it she writes about the anger and disgust of those she calls “Covid Moms” who are angry and disgusted with the mask mandates that have been imposed on school kids.
For the most part these are highly educated liberal women who make their homes in deep blue urban enclaves. Most importantly, they have school age kids and have been able to observe first hand the effects of masking requirements on their own. The scales are falling from their eyes.
Maud Maron who lives in Soho with her husband and kids got so disgusted with the situation that she decided to challenge Carolyn Maloney, a mask aficionado and 30 year veteran Congresswoman, in the upcoming Democratic primary. Weiss quotes her as saying “When you shut down my kids’ schools and impose devastating mental health effects on them—I don’t forgive anyone who did that.” Likewise she quotes Natalya Murakhver, who voiced her disgust with political establishment. “I was a very liberal Democrat… Now, my vote is up for grabs to whoever puts kids first.”
At first blush for those who would like to see the schools reformed, this would seem to be a positive development. But it’s way too soon to start popping the champaign corks. For one thing, we have to see if any of these insurgent candidates are actually elected. And that assumes they will have the power to do what they claim to want to do. More importantly, while these candidates are fighting against a particular policy regime, namely masking mandates, the structural underpinning that has allowed the schools to be captured by the teachers unions and other interest groups remains in place. Third, public schools in large urban areas have been an unmitigated disaster for decades. It is only now that disastrous school policies have started to have a deleterious impact on the kids of affluent parents in the best neighborhoods that they have sat up and begun to take notice.
In her article Weiss maintains that these women really don’t care about political theory; they just care about what works. And therein lies the problem. Their focus is on what they consider to be a series of policy errors and how to correct them without asking why the errors happened to begin with. Those errors were baked in the cake a half century ago when the public schools, under the influence of John Dewey, began to democratize learning.
No longer was the point of education to teach upcoming generations by instructing them in the Western Canon; what Harold Bloom called the School of Resentment began its long ascent in educational institutions across the country. Eventually, multiculturalism, post-colonialism, ethnic and gender studies and racial essentialism began to dominate curricular development, as it does today. And so today we have the absurdity of specifying pronouns.
Today’s educational institutions are busy attacking the institutions of liberal society; not sustaining them. But that has been underway for along time. It is only now that affluent parents have begun to take notice, for two reasons. First they can see on their kids’ iPads what they are being taught in Zoom classes. Second, they can see first hand the damage being done to their youngsters by being forced to mask up.
But the harms visited upon kids in public schools in poor neighborhoods are an order of magnitude greater. They have been a fiefdom run for the benefit of teachers, not kids, for decades. Look at the results. NAEP statistics show that for 8th graders in America, only 33% are at or above proficiency in mathematics. In reading it is only 35%. The black / white gap in mathematics is stunning. Some 43% of white 8th graders are at or above proficiency, but only 13% of black students are. The only group that scores well is that of Asian and Pacific Islanders. In math and reading, they score at or above proficiency at 59% and 52% respectively.
And that was before the pandemic, with its associated years of learning loss due to closed schools and mask mandates. But there is an alternative: Charter Schools.
A look at standardized tests tells the story. Recently in New York City 47% of public school students passed standardized reading tests; 43% passed the math tests. But at Success Academy, the Charter Schools run by Eva Moskowitz, the numbers were 91% and 98%. The students at Success Academy are virtually all low income (median income $32,000), selected at random, and 95% are members of minority groups. The political establishment still continues to fight expanding the number of charter schools, even though they produce manifestly better results.
The upshot of all this is that even if the “Covid Moms” get elected and can effect some policy changes, overall, urban schools are not going to improve. They may improve in some affluent neighborhoods where the parents are well organized. But poor neighborhoods are still going to be left to the tender mercies of the teachers unions. They will not change unless and until public funding for the schools is channeled through parents and not politicians beholden to public sector labor unions. Those are the politicians who owe their elections to the machine politics that are the backbone of the modern Democratic Party.