“An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
This past weekend I did something that I have never done before: I participated in a rally to get our kids back into the classroom. From New York to San Francisco parents came out to ask politicians and superintendents to listen to the CDC, the American Society of Pediatrics, and just about every other scientist and health expert in the world and get kids back into schools in person. Here is Atlanta we had more than 200 parents and students show up for the cause.
I am not sure how many other protest rookies were out there, but I think it must have been quite a few. How did we get here? What started as a knee-jerk reaction to a global pandemic has turned into political football with the primary victims being children. At some point, all parents have to stand up to protect their kids from complete injustice.
The excuse for why our schools are closed in Atlanta is the pandemic, but the pandemic affects the entire state of Georgia, as it affects the world, and the only school systems that are closed for in-person education are the Democratic hotbeds in Atlanta and Dekalb and Clayton Counties, two Metro Atlanta counties. The truth is, Donald Trump and Georgia’s Republican governor Brian Kemp have come out to support opening schools, so the people on the other side are going to keep the schools closed.
Children are the ones getting hurt, but not all of the children. Private schools have been open for business, and in Atlanta both our mayor and the Board of Education chair have taken advantage of that to give their kids the option for face-to-face (F2F) learning. You can’t make this stuff up. As MLK, Jr. pointed out in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” one can tell a law is unjust when those who pass it do not follow it themselves.
Truth be told, my kids would be in one of those private schools had we not “won the lottery” and gotten them into a charter school, Atlanta Classical Academy (ACA), which, in my wife’s and my opinion, is the best school in the city academically. It has certainly been a good fit for our kids. As a charter school, ACA is supposed to have the autonomy to make its own decisions, but when it released its plan for F2F education this summer, Atlanta Public Schools vetoed it. The school has done very well under the circumstances, and our children have the blessing of two loving, well-educated parents who can provide them all the technology they require and help them in just about any subject. Still, we can see the suffering in our children – anxiety, depression, apathy. Being stuck on a screen for the entire school day to then have to do their homework on the same screens, never really seeing their friends or teachers, has taken a toll.
The tragedy is that the toll our kids have had to bear is as good as it gets. I see what has happened to them and I can only imagine what is happening in homes that have much less, or in families with disabilities, or in households where one or both parents’ jobs do not afford the flexibility to work remotely, never mind all of the above. We know that in some cases the kids just are not in school period. We know that abuse is not getting reported. We know that children are getting left behind. Why?
It is easy to blame our politicians, but we need to remember that our politicians are a reflection of the people who vote for them. We need to remember that every time we point our finger at someone else, we have three fingers pointing back at us. We are the reason our politics is no longer about issues, but about tribal warfare.
How else does one explain the very same people who proudly march down a street holding a sign saying “Science is Real” in support of climate change turning a blind eye to the medical community who now overwhelmingly agree that children should be in school in person? Science can’t just be real when we want it to be. How can people who preach social justice and equity turn a blind eye to the biggest social injustice since Jim Crow?
The answer is they are in the blue tribe, and it is the red tribe who wants schools open, so we must disagree, even if it goes against every principle we claim to possess.
I don’t mean to be one-sided in this argument. The issue of the day just happens to run in that direction. The red tribe was against tax reform of all things when the blue tribe’s president suggested it. The red tribe had long stood for character mattering, until they won with someone whose character, well…let’s just say he is a character. They also stood for free trade, until that same character decided that tariffs were good.
This goes both ways. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article pointing out that in the 1980s, knowing how a person felt about one particular issue did not provide great insight into their overall political views. Today if you know where someone stands on one issue, then you know where they stand on all issues. The only way that could happen is if we have sacrificed our principles for tribe acceptance.
Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an op-ed from John Barrasso, Republican senator from Wyoming. He points out that Senator Schumer tried to hold up every single cabinet nomination made by President Trump, even low-level positions with clearly qualified mainstream nominees. This was new ground politically. Democrats attempted to block 79 appointments from Trump. The previous six presidents had combined for only 18. The point of Barrasso’s op-ed? Revenge is going to be hell.
When will it stop? Only when we all demand that it stops. Principle should guide our views, not the color of our uniform. If one’s political opponent happens to agree with her, then that is cause to celebrate, not to disagree for the sake of being disagreeable. If we truly want our politicians to act more nobly, then it starts with us. We have to look in the mirror and say, “I will to stand for what I believe is right, not for what is red or blue.” If we do that, then we may just be shocked how quickly our polarization will disappear. At least that is my perspective.
In the meantime, for God’s sake get our kids back in school!
Chuck Osborne, CFA