Op-Ed: A Tale Of Two Opinions

Don Lemon CNN black community guidelines

Inner-city education and where the Left and the Right might ever find common ground...

“Liberals say conservatives are evil, and conservatives believe that liberals are completely na├»ve,” as the old thinking/mantra goes. Most conservatives believe freedom and liberty are far more important than equality. The Left believes in the reverse. When right-leaning people envision change, with few exceptions, most of us imagine an incremental process, starting with each individual person and his/her local community. Liberals, on the other hand, view change through radical, and revolutionary acts that are mainly wrought through Big Government.

As conservatives, we see the world as it is, and we are generally accepting of this awareness. In sharp contrast, the other side sees the world in theoretical terms, i.e., an unrealistic utopian Order. As a black Christian conservative that adheres to the doctrine of fallen humanity, I believe my vision is peppered with an extra dose of reality. Case in point; The ever increasing debate over school choice and vouchers.

Paying Lip Service to Inner-city Education Needs?

Both major political parties hear about too many inner city public schools that are in decline. The Left and the Right are aware of the fact that a number of blacks and Hispanics are receiving poor educations. Countless students are reading below their grade levels, and too many have recently graduated high school with the inability to complete simple job applications in the real world. Both sides readily admit that without an education, many of these children will turn to crime and end up in our prison system. Liberals and conservatives are equally appalled and distressed by these circumstances and simply say: “These poor kids! This is unacceptable and should not happen, not in the greatest, most affluent nation on earth.” As history has proven time and time again, it will end there, In one statement of outrage.

Conservatives then ask, “Who has the verifiable track record of educating minorities and teaching low income children to read?” Answer: Private and Christian schools! Conservatives then say, “good.” Since the government allocates a certain amount of money to educate each low-income child, those on the right believe the funding should be, converted to vouchers, and distributed to blacks and Hispanics in failing schools, so that they can go to private or Christian schools, learn to read, get a good education, and become productive citizens.

Liberals respond, “Wait, not so fast. What about the separation of church and state? You can’t use public funds to send a minority child to a Christian school. That’s against the law. In fact, it is unfair to take money from the public school system to send a child to a private school.”

School Choice and Vouchers the Way Forward?

The truth is, all public schools, including those that are currently failing, need all the money they can get. How else will they improve? They need to be turned around to become successful teaching institutions that effectively support the students. School choice and vouchers are not the answer. Vouchers only help some select students. The answer is to allocate more funds to improve all failing public schools so that all students attending can benefit. Yes, that is the solution; it’s quite simple. After all, education is a human right! Every poor inner-city child has just as much right to a high-quality education as a rich child in the suburbs, and it is our duty to fight for all of these excluded. All children are entitled to a quality education regardless of their their zip code. A competitive education should not depend on where you live or how much money your parent or parents earn.

We must dissolve the invisible “school-to-prison” pipeline that’s been in operation right in the face of the American people. The education of our low-income children should be the major civil rights issue of our time. For example, every child living in a government project located in Washington, D.C. ought to benefit from the same cutting-edge education programs as the Obamas’ and the Clintons’ children who attended the upscale Sidwell Friends School. Why can our children not go there or receive the equivalent educational experience in the public school setting? We, as parents, will continue to fight until that is achieved.

During a Bill O’Reilly interview a while back, Valerie Jarrett was asked, “why does Obama not support vouchers.” Her answer: “Vouchers only help some students get a good education. Obama is interested in helping all low-income students get a good education.” Her response is far from a viable solution and is precisely where we are today, far from a solution to this serious problem, still waiting and hoping for the “possibility” of “when” low-income/inner-city children will receive the proper education that they all deserve.

Don Lemon vs. The Doctor

This difference between conservatives and liberals was brought home to me some months ago with two opinions presented by two prominent African-Americans. CNN anchor Don Lemon presented the “conservative” opinion. Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy assistant professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College in New York, responded with the liberal view.

In what he called his ‘“non-talking points” during a July 2013 broadcast, Lemon presented five guidelines that blacks could adopt that would be positive and productive for our community. Presumably in order from least important to most, he suggested the following: Black young men should pull up their pants. Blacks should stop using the N-word. Blacks should stop trashing their streets and communities. Black students should stay in school and take their education seriously, and not think that doing “well“ in school means that they are “acting” white. Blacks should not have babies just because they can.

Interpreting Don Lemon’s suggestions, conservatives might think, “great points, simple and constructive, straightforward, doable, measurable.” This could be taught in schools. If adopted and adhered to, it can be a positive influence within the black communities. Some may even go as far as formally categorizing them as the ”Lemon Principles.” A black teenager could encourage another teen to “pull up your pants,” and remind them of the Lemon Principles. A black child could suggest to another black child, “pick up that candy wrapper, remember the Lemon Principles?”

The Liberal response was the total opposite of what might be considered positive or reinforcing. Instead, it was brutal. How dare Don Lemon attack the victims? Who does Don Lemon think he is? The Left smeared Don Lemon as “an Uncle Tom, a sellout, and a stooge” of Bill O’Reilly after that aired. Liberal’s even went so far as to initiate and circulate a petition for him to be fired. The polarized responses culminated in a scathing rebuttal in an Ebony Magazine article titled “Why Don Lemon Was Wrong,” authored by Professor Lewis-McCoy. I want to do justice to both Dr. Lewis-McCoy and his article. Therefore, in addition to the summary below, I invite readers to interpret it for themselves.

In this highly academic refutation, Dr. Lewis-McCoy dismantled, or rather demolished, all five of Don Lemon’s points one by one. For one thing, he insisted that “saggy pants” did not originate in the context of prison culture and were unrelated to homosexual activity in prison in contrast to what Don Lemon had suggested. The professor maintained that pulling up pants would serve only one purpose: “make people who don’t’ like seeing underwear more comfortable.”

Secondly, Lewis-McCoy considered the N-word use by blacks a non-issue when compared to other matters in the the black community today, and agreed with Marc Lamont Hill that, “white people are only upset because they can’t use the N-word, and blacks can.”

In response to Lemon’s third point, Lewis-McCoy said that blacks were not the only ones with a proclivity for “trashing their communities.” He recalled that one time he chased down someone who had thrown a McDonald bag out of his car window only to find that the culprit was white. More importantly, he proposed that other environmental health factors that affect blacks should be considered such as the increased rates of asthma and the high risk for diabetes within black communities. He disagreed with the premise that blacks accusing other blacks of “acting white” constitutes a substantial reason why some African-Americans do not take their education seriously. Instead, he believes that educational failure is due to “divestment in urban areas and the obvious hoarding of educational opportunity among those fortunate enough to reside within the suburbs among the elites.”

Last but not least, Lewis-McCoy drew no correlation whatsoever between the reportedly high, out-of-wedlock births and the social pathology existing in the black community. “Marriage,” he claimed, “is not the salve for poverty,” but that “access to economic opportunity, jobs, livable wages and healthcare,” are the solutions.

He also suggested that even if the black community adopted all of Lemon’s non-talking points, very little to no change would occur. He concluded by saying, “If we are serious about fixing our communities, then we must talk about big things that matter, and seriously consider how they structure individual actions as well as community outcomes.” Conservatives, even those of us who’ve earned postgraduate degrees, might read Professor Lewis-McCoy’s article and collectively respond with an incredible, “what?”

Patricia Jackson / Guest Contributor
Patricia Jackson is an immigrant from West Africa, a Christian and Executive Director of Parent Child Learning Project. She is passionate about the education of low income inner-city children who are being left behind academically. She lives in Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia.
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