Criticism of Sinquefield is insincere and unhelpful

Everyone’s concerned. Everyone’s offended. About everything. It’s part of the culture we live in today. And especially part of our pathetic, pedantic, political discourse. We can’t wait to jump on somebody’s comments to prove what a scumbag they are. I’ve probably been guilty of this at times in my life. I hope no more. We need a more reasoned discourse. But that would get in the way of scoring cheap political points when your opponent happens to stick his foot in his mouth.

Recently, retired investor and public policy advocate Rex Sinquefield referenced an old story about how the KKK came up with the idea of a public school system that would fail black children miserably. In video of the event, it’s plain Sinquefield was not relaying this story as historical fact but rather, like the author of the newspaper column he cited, pointing to a bitter irony of modern public education: rather than equalize opportunity, it has failed poor, minority students.

To school reform backers, that’s a moral problem of tremendous scope. Hence the KKK reference –  for a bit of contextual size and scale (and groups like the Black Alliance for Educational Options will absolutely tell you that school choice is a civil rights issue). Was it a poorly chosen illustration? Yes. We all know there are good people doing good work in public schools, and this kind of reference is too easily distorted into an attack on all of them, which is what we see happening now.

The point is that Sinquefield observed that today’s failed public school system and its effects on the vulnerable is a travesty of the first order. He’s to be tarred and feathered for that?

There’s one other piece to all this. Who are the people attacking Sinquefield right now? Public school people. Establishment education people with a vested interest in the status quo, or certain elected officials who depend on their support. Think about that. Aren’t some of these same individuals and organizations some of the worst offenders when it comes to hyperbole and morally-charged rhetoric when it comes to education debates? Aren’t they often the first people to claim you’re against kids if you dare oppose a tax increase or if you have the audacity to suggest a change to teacher personnel policy?

I remember living in Columbia a couple years ago when the late Rep. Ed Robb (R-Columbia) was still serving in the state legislature. There was a particularly intense debate over some education bill, and one day I was driving through town when I began to see signs loudly proclaiming that “Ed Robb Hurts Kids.” Apparently this father and educator was on the wrong side of the issue. So obviously he “hurts kids.”

I was blown away – but I was also young and naive. I think we’ve all come to expect that kind of rhetoric from the noble public school lobby. Now an off-handed barb comes their way, and they are rife with self-righteous indignation.

MNEA president Chris Guinther said Rex is “out of touch….[and] needs to explain himself and apologize to all students, parents and Missourians.” Missouri Association of School Administrators president Eric Churchill said that Sinquefield’s remarks were “offensive to every student, parent, employee, teacher, administrator, and school board member in a public school.” These two should be reminded that their organizations were principal members of the coalition that called itself “People for Public Schools,” which put the deplorable signs up about Ed Robb.

So enough with the phony outrage.

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