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What makes a person who benefitted from choice repel it?

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“Do you have a card?”

She had a huge smile, coming up to me right after I spoke to the NC House Education Committee —the largest, it would seem, in the free world with 53 members (!)– about the need for opportunity scholarships to provide poor children access to quality schools.

“Um, I’ll get you one,” I answered. Then I noticed her sticker on her lapel, which was a circle, with the word vouchers in the middle, and a SLASH through the word.

“Why do you want my card, you clearly don’t agree with me,” I responded.

The inquirer responded – “I just want to know who is paying you; where you get your money.”

Wow. So belief is all about who pays you? I was stunned.

Her name was Elizabeth Haddix, and it turns out Elizabeth works for the UNC School of Law Office of Civil Rights.

During the whole hearing, this man stood behind her, near the door, and cued her with motions and non-verbal hand signals as people were talking. (See minute 44:16 in the video of the hearing below.) He actually looked like the union boss in “Won’t Back Down.” But upon further research, it turns out, he’s the manager of said Office of Civil Rights, and, it would seem, her coach.

It was a quick hearing, and only an hour was allocated for pro- and con-, and the basic introdution of the bill by members, but clearly Elizabeth waited with anticipation to deliver a zinger of remarks… which never came because they had to stop the hearing due to time. Thankfully, the voucher hearing continued in the NC House Ed Committee today, and 27 lawmakers had enough sense & strength to see past typical status quo arguments and pass opportunity scholarship legislation.

One of the most frustrating things I have to contend with in my job is the insinuation that some of us wake up every day and simply do someone else’s bidding. That I would have funders that might dictate who I am or what I believe is, of course, insulting. But more insulting is the notion that a smart, Duke and UNC Grad like Elizabeth – quite possibly subsidized by the state – would think more about who “pays me” than what I believe… as her manager looks on.

What’s more is that this hearing was about a bill that is largely going to benefit black and brown children, from poor neighborhoods, who can’t even spell UNC or LAW because the schools are so bad. And yet, little white Elizabeth and her Manager help run an organization with TAX PAYER DOLLARS that claims to “extend America’s promise of justice, prosperity and opportunity by elevating families and communities above the boundaries of race, class and place. Its mission is to use community-based impact advocacy and legal education and scholarship to advance strategies that secure social, economic and environmental justice for low wealth, minority families and neighborhoods.”

Huh? You are working to elevate families above the boundaries of place, but you want children consigned to failing schools they are required to attend by virtue of their zip code and poverty? Please.

Elizabeth didn’t get to talk but I can surmise what she would have said. I’ve met thousands of Elizabeth’s before – privileged people who so desperately want to help others that they lose sight of the fact that the institutions created to help and the laws written to protect us all often fail to deliver on promises.

Elizabeth probably would have said, however, to give her credit:

– Public schools are the very foundation of American society, and scholarships undermine that foundation
– Public schools are egalitarian and must take everyone, while private schools can select – and discriminate
– No one cares more about kids than educators, and public educators work hard every day to ensure they teach the kids.

Then she would have attempted to say something about civil rights, forgetting that phrases rarely deliver social justice. After all, Brown v Board was the law of the land more than a decade before anyone had real justice.

I wonder if she’d ever say that she had a choice to go to school, if not during K-12 than most certainly at Duke and UNC Law!

What makes a person who benefitted from choice repel from it? Is it their love of the status quo? Their fear of the potential of real parent power? What is it that actually robs otherwise smart people of their ability to see behind their own little paradigm and book learning? I will die trying to know, but I will never stop.

And then there’s that smile. I think more than the fact that I can predict what she’d say by her allegiance to failing public schools in NC, is the fact that when she first asked me for my card, Elizabeth had an enormous and apparently quite phony smile on her face as if getting my card was the key to her salvation. Thankfully I asked her why she’d wanted it, and she told me. “I just want to know who’s paying you,” she said. Wow. That’s your big concern?

Disagree if you want, represent your own narrow interests, but do me a favor Elizabeth – if you really believe what you believe, be honest about it and don’t fake the smile next time. Be the person you really are and demonstrate what you believe. And celebrate the fact that you had a choice in getting there.

by Jeanne Allen

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