The classic knock against politically active college students is that we tend to support social justice in ways that place no burden on ourselves and that we lack connectivity with the causes we support. The Daily’s editorial board unfortunately opened itself to that argument with last Friday’s editorial (From the Daily: A public concern, 01/19/07), which placed the responsibility to improving Detroit’s schools on parents.

Although a supermajority of editorial board members are Detroit suburbanites (or can afford out-of-state tuition), their faith in the value of grassroots political activism would straddle parents with an unfair and unnecessary burden – that of willing a blatantly corrupt school system to perform up to a high standard and mortgaging their children’s education on a school they must force to do its job.

For all the very American rhetoric we hear about “choice,” “free market” and the “will of the people” – useful at times to those of every political stripe – few speak of K-12 education in such terms. While all of us have driven around town to shop for the best gas price, it’s never occurred to many people – and is abhorrent to others – that education can be thought of in the same way. Such thinking, if persistent, will prove crippling for the educational futures of children in the state.

Raised on the value of neighborhood schools, which for suburbanites are a reality but in major American cities are an educational death sentence, some naively hold to the notion that every child should receive an education in his or her own community. But what if a neighborhood school can’t provide a quality education? What if the neighborhood school is a liability in terms of educational and career prospects? So many people are quick to ask “what about the schools?” Far fewer ask “what about the kids?”

Activism is great for those who have the time and the disposition, but most parents aren’t activists, neither should they need to be to ensure quality schools for their children. It’s the job of the state, not of parents, to educate children, and in many places, particularly in Detroit, the state is failing terribly.

Let’s be clear on this point: It does not fall to parents in Detroit – already paying far higher taxes than the quality of living in the city can justify – to entice the city’s school system to be better. Not when the district’s problems are so structural that they may warrant a state takeover.

The editorial board is rash to bewail the loss of $7,500 per student when Detroit parents find suburban addresses without considering that maybe underachieving schools don’t deserve the money. It’s just like how we all pass by an overpriced gas station without giving it a second thought. Most parents don’t have time for school board meetings or to spend campaigning for change – they’re too busy raising children. In making the educational great escape, Detroit parents are merely partaking in a tradition time immemorial, yet uniquely American: voting with their feet and tax dollars.

Now that’s democracy for you.

James Dickson is an LSA senior, Daily columnist and is also the former editor in chief of The Michigan Review.

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