The real lesson from Mintz’s experience is that her parents need to get her out of that school and into either a well-disciplined private school, or some kind of homeschooling, perhaps online. Many years ago, after my wife began homeschooling our kids, my sister, who was a (very good) public school teacher, expressed skepticism that they could learn as much as they could in a classroom. Out of the sake of politeness and maintaining family comity, I didn’t say the blunt truth: that they are in fact learning a heck of a lot more, because unlike you, their teacher doesn’t have to stop every four or five minutes and tell kids in the class to settle down. (I had once visited my sister’s classroom, and this was true.) The prejudice she had, and a lot of people have, is that any non-standard form of education has to be substandard.
I doubt Veronique Mintz meant to raise this issue, but it’s one that nobody likes to talk about: what if the problem is not the system, but the kids, and the families that send them to school without the character qualities necessary for their success?
When I was on the editorial board at the Dallas Morning News, my colleagues cared a lot about school reform. Really passionate folks. Once we were doing election season interviews with school board candidates. We had one session between incumbent Lew Blackburn, an African-American man representing some of the poorest school districts in the city, and his challenger. I don’t remember the specific question one of my colleagues asked, but it had something to do with testing, and the district’s very poor results. Blackburn’s response was something to the effect of (I paraphrase), “What do you expect? These kids come from poor families. Lots of them only have one parent. Those with two parents, the mom and dad are often both working long hours.” After the meeting, some of my colleagues were really hot at Blackburn. They couldn’t believe that he was so fatalistic.