Billy Murphy of Baltimore might not have meant to say it, but he said it nonetheless and his words are certainly worth repeating.
“The education system has failed them,” Mr. Murphy recently told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
By “them,” of course, he meant the rioters who shut down Baltimore. A native of the city and a former judge, Mr. Murphy is an attorney representing the family of Freddie Gray. He knows Baltimore’s public school system and America’s urban school systems have failed and are failing youngsters.
While his words can easily be used as both a reason and an excuse for the violence that overwhelmed Baltimore following Gray’s funeral, don’t be too quick to pull out the blue or red crayons.
Mr. Murphy’s parents named him William H. Murphy Jr., and he comes from a long line of politically and socially active ancestors. His paternal great-grandfather, John H. Murphy, a former slave and Civil War vet, founded the Afro-American newspapers in Baltimore. His late mom, Madeline, was an author and TV commentator who wrote opinion pieces for The Afro. His dad was a circuit judge who raised his family in a working-class neighborhood of Baltimore because his parents dare not appear elitist.
One of Billy Murphy’s sisters, Laura Murphy, ran the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union.
And here’s why you shouldn’t pull out the crayons: Blue and progressive politics run the gamut of his lineage without a doubt, but his assessment that the “education system has failed them” is particularly noteworthy because the Murphy family represents the stock that black and poor families should continue to put in education instead of relying upon failed government school policies and programs that hold them back.
President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten are all on the same page.
“We need to invest in our youngest learners now to give the next generation the opportunity for a better tomorrow,” Ms. Weingarten said Monday.
She clearly wants another generation to fail.
Mr. Duncan does, too, saying Monday at a Spanish-English bilingual school in Prince George’s County, Maryland: “If this [federal education rewrite] law goes forward without early childhood in it, that would be a huge, huge mistake.”
And Mr. Obama? Well, for his part, the president allows Mr. Duncan and Ms. Weingarten to speak his mind. In fact, Mr. Obama’s goal is to corral all pre-K children in America’s already failing system. He calls it “Preschool for All” and says the only problem is that our youngsters deserve “high-quality” programs and more money to fund them.
The one-size-fits-all crowd always begs for more money when it comes to education. It’s like the wheels of the school bus, which go ‘round and ‘round, picking up and dropping off generations of less-fortunate kids who end up on the road to nowhere.
It’s not the lack of money. Like D.C. and other big U.S. cities, Baltimore’s per-pupil spending gulps up public dollars quicker than you can say test scores.
There’s hope, however.
Larry Hogan, the Republican who became governor in January and ordered the state’s calvary to save Baltimore from itself, has a window of opportunity to give parents in Baltimore and elsewhere in Maryland greater school choice.
Mr. Hogan can start or continue a conversation with choice advocates. He can perhaps even introduce an experimental program in Baltimore that offers more choice, more options, so that parents no longer have to tether the next generation to a system more compelled to count truants and dropouts instead of graduates.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did not take the Gray insinuations very well, as you now know. So do not expect her to be the first in line to push for school-choice dollars.
Baltimore stakeholders are not too pleased with her, which is why Mr. Hogan and school choicers should be setting up deliberation tables and printing up placards right now.
Sure, there’s plenty of politics down the road — the mayoral election, the U.S. Senate election and the White House election.
More important, though, is the generation of young people who saw fit to riot and the adults who made and will make excuses for them.
Many of those young kids currently in preschool, grade school and secondary school? The “education system failed them” through no fault of their own.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at email@example.com.