Blogging Against the Telethon

September 4, 2007


In my eagerness to do a piece about labor on Labor Day, another tradition of the Holiday Weekend skipped my mind: the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Fortunately, I did not spend yesterday sobbing on a street corner and telling people how much life in a wheelchair sucks. Neither did the disability bloggers at www.karasheridan.com, with their “Blog Against the Telethon.”

For many people with disabilities, myself included, the Telethon is an inexcusable pity play. Yes, it raises money, but kids sitting on stage crying about how disabilities are awful is totally disgusting. I have a disability. It is a part of my identity. My wheelchair is a part of my identity in the same way that my ethnicity and birthplace are. I do not obsess about it, but it can be a source of meaning in my life. I would not trade it for the world.

Instead of digging out your wallets to support the Telethon, spend this week opening your mind. Disability is a natural part of life. We are not people in need of cures. We are people in need of acceptance for who we are. If you can look beyond the connotations of disability and realize that we have the same dreams and aspirations as you do, you will have made a far more generous contribution to our community than Jerry Lewis ever could.


Competition is Good, Part Three: The Educated Choice

July 26, 2007

My last two posts here have dealt with the need to use competition in order to solve some of the greatest domestic problems facing America. I explained why the government needs to compete with the private sector in order to provide quality health coverage and green energy to the American people. This final post in the Competition is Good series approaches competition from a different direction. The government occasionally needs to compete with itself.

Public education is one of the greatest achievements of the American people. Universal public education in this country is one of our oldest and finest traditions, and many people feel a deep sense of devotion to public education. In recent years, we have reexamined how we perform one of the most important tasks of society: educating our young people. With the advent of No Child Left Behind, and with a decade-long debate going on over whether or not tax vouchers should be provided to families who choose private schools, competition is becoming more of a reality in education than ever before.

The idea of providing vouchers to families who choose private schools is novel, but it is not the right way to ensure proper competition in education. After all, individuals who are not on welfare do not get vouchers for their Social Security taxes. Citizens living abroad do not get vouchers for their military taxes. There is no reason to exempt an individual from taxes simply because they do not take advantage of every government service paid for by tax.

The best way to overhaul public education is to let the public sector compete with itself. Public school choice and charter schools are excellent ways to reinvigorate our educational system, giving accountability without taking the benefits of quality public education. The last thing we need is more privatization in education. Rather, we need to give students more choices about where they attend school.

The city of Hartford, CT is currently undergoing a transformation in schooling. Thanks to a Connecticut Supreme Court case that mandated desegregation throughout the region for low-income and minority students, Hartford has established a series of charter and magnet schools. These schools specialize in providing a high-quality education by using public funding to grant charters to private educational institutions. The vigor and accountability that comes with the private sector is combined with the universal access and funding of the public sector in order to give students and families meaningful choices. Some schools go even further in specialization by focusing on math and sciences, global studies, or the arts. Students can select a school that emphasizes a field they are interested in, thus motivating students to excel and become passionate about learning. Although Hartford’s system has not yet lived up to its goals of integration, its academies stand ready to motivate young people and are a beginning of good things to come for the city’s educational future.

The city of Chicago, IL has also sought out creative ways to address a lack of achievement of education. The city has developed one of the most comprehensive systems of public school choice in America. Students have the choice, along with their families, to enter into a lottery in order to choose what school they would like to attend. They are guaranteed acceptance into the school closest to their homes, but have the opportunity to aim for a higher-achieving public school in the district. Although this system offers little to students who are not interested in academic success, it gives motivated young people the chance to attend a school with a rigorous curriculum and a history of achievement. It allows families to raise their standards, and opens up opportunities for motivated young people born into underachieving neighborhoods. The Chicago system gives people flexibility in setting standards high and not erecting institutional barriers to success.

The cities of Hartford and Chicago are leading the way for real educational reform by offering choices that can allow highly-motivated and gifted students to succeed. It is time for the rest of America to follow their lead and offer meaningful public school choice. Competition breeds innovation, and it is only right to think that more choices in education will give our young people the greatest opportunities to excel.