Scoppe: It’s easy to say parents should be more engaged. When that fails, what’s plan B? | Commentary

I was already thinking about sharing Nikky Finney’s note with you when I got another one of those ridiculous tweets about how the state shouldn’t bother trying to educate kids with the congenital disease of parents who don’t care about their education.

“The best way to improve the outcomes for children to succeed is when there is a parent engaged in that outcome,” wrote Doug, a perennial detractor who seems to believe that government programs are inherently useless. “No amount of government spending can overcome an absent parent.”

Like most libertarians, Doug has a legitimate point — which is paired with an absurd point that in this case makes it just as ridiculous as arguing that the cure to a poorly educated populace is to simply shovel more money into the schools.







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Cindi Ross Scopepe


Of course engaged parents are the ideal. Engaged parents should be one of our top education goals. That’s something every teacher in our government schools would agree with. It’s one reason I’m such a big fan of SC First Steps to School Readiness — a government program that works with parents to teach them to be their children’s first and best teachers.

The problem with this nihilistic approach is that some parents are not going to be engaged no matter how long we stick our fingers in our ears and jump up and down and scream “No! No! no!” Either they’re just lousy, irresponsible people who never should have had kids, or they struggled in school and have no idea how to help their kids or how to get help, or they’re working three jobs just to put food on the table and have no time to help out.

Whatever the reason, these parents aren’t going to read to their kids every day or teach them how to count and read before kindergarten. They probably won’t teach them their colors and the difference between their indoor voices and their outdoor voices, and they’re not going to make sure they do their homework and finish their science project. As a result, their kids are the most difficult and the most expensive to educate: They start out behind and get farther behind every year if we don’t provide them with intensive instruction from the best teachers.

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And we have to do this, because we don’t get to throw those kids away.

Even if those of us who call ourselves Christians could square it with the teachings of the savior whose resurrection we celebrate this weekend, we don’t have the option of throwing them away. We can’t even ship them off to another school district, much less another state.

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To the contrary, they’re going to spend the rest of their lives in South Carolina. And when they drop out of high school and can’t get a decent job and start shoplifting and breaking into our homes while we’re sleeping, we’re going to pay for those kids we don’t rescue from their parents’ failures.

But let Ms. Finney explain.

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The late Chief Justice Ernest Finney’s daughter wrote in response to my column a couple of weeks ago explaining what her father actually meant in his wrongly malignant “minimally adequate” education order. We’ll pick up after she confirmed my assumption that he “would be terribly disappointed that after 23 years, rather than providing that adequate education, we’re still complaining that the ruling itself is inadequate and the phrase vague and undefined.”

“He would be far more than disappointed,” she wrote. “He would be crushed. He would still be on the battlefield for education and justice for all — but crushed. Papa believed that the children of South Carolina — especially those who were born without a silver spoon in their mouths — had to be protected and fought for. Kids of the poor. No matter what their skin color. He believed South Carolina laws could not simply encircle the privileged and those closest to the ballot box. He understood the connection between the prison pipeline and … an inadequate education. He understood the connection between getting involved with gangs and drugs and an inadequate education. He did not believe there were any expendable people. full stop.”

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Or, to put it another way: We can’t throw these kids away.

I’ll leave you with another part of her note, which is a tribute to her father as well as a broadside against our lawmakers, but 23 years after “minimally adequate” and despite a lot of good intentions by a lot of individual lawmakers, I can’t say it’s not worth hearing:

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“He was a good guy who kept his eye on all the people walking on the side of the road — even as he sped along in his old Buick. He kept wanting me to go to Law School. We used to have the best father-daughter disagreements about the best way to serve society. I remember telling him that the Law he adored, and was passionate about what was just too close to politicians, and politicians never serve the people. Politicians do what profits them, and therefore I would have to choose poetry because poetry served humankind and cared more about the truth.

“How could men and women who professed to care about teaching boys and girls to read and write and think critically debate the language of an education bill for twenty-three years, thereby ending up NOT CARING about how many of those boys and girls dropped out of school or stayed in and never received a ‘minimally adequate’ education? How could they live with themselves? How could they sleep at night? My father didn’t sleep much, and he smoked way too many Salem cigarettes. But he never gave up hope that we would one day be a state that cared about all of its citizens.”

May you have a blessed Easter, and may you never give up hope that South Carolina will one day be a state that cares about all of its citizens.

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