The NYT on popular participation

The effect of “equality” on self-government: Bias Feared in School Plan for Councils. New York City has 32 elected school boards. Most potential voters don’t have school-age children, and fewer than 5% participate in electing the boards. So the city wants to replace the school boards with parent councils elected by PTA officers. That way they would be chosen by parents actively involved in improving their children’s education.

The problem? Minorities don’t get involved much in civic affairs. The “black community” is mostly a fable. As a result, many heavily-minority schools don’t have active PTAs, in spite of the presence of a paid full-time parent coordinator, and those that do have disproportionate white involvement. To the New York Times, that means bias. To the “growing number of critics” the Times cites in support of its opinion, it’s “appalling,” “unconstitutional,” and “unfair representation.” They feel “sick, absolutely sick,” and say that “[w]e might as well not have had the civil rights movement.”

The solution? Get the federal government involved, and have them force the city to keep the entirely unrepresentative current system. If local participatory institutions can’t be made equal, which they never can, the answer is centralized control by people who can be presumed to read the New York Times. That is liberalism in 2003.

A striking feature of the article is the lack of curiosity about the substance of the dispute. Apart from noting down comments from various not-very-astute local liberal activists, the writer makes no effort to analyze opposition to the reform. As they stand, the school boards are somewhat independent local authorities that are responsible to no-one, because the electorate does not in fact elect them. In New York City that kind of situation normally means corruption of one sort or another—patronage, cronyism, placement of contracts and whatnot. If goodies are available they never go to waste, and if someone tries to take them away there are complaints. To the writer of the piece, though, that kind of problem doesn’t exist. The only thing relevant is the overriding requirement that everything be made equal.

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