Sunday, February 05, 2006

Inez Tenenbaum: ABC 20/20's "Stupid in America" was "outrageously biased"

Last week, I noted that a recent story on ABC's 20/20 by John Stossel titled, "Stupid in America," may be one of the most important you will ever watch. I observed that, "how we create innovation in publicly funded education is the most critical education issue we face across the country." Discussions of public education are very emotional and always get the most comments from Swamp Fox readers, and last week was no exception.

Inez Tenenbaum has a different view, posted on the South Carolina Department of Education website, which she calls "An objective view of 'Stupid in America'"

A Message from Inez
Thursday, February 2, 2006

Dear Friends of Education:

Many of us were distressed by the outrageously biased portrayal of South Carolina's public schools in the segment titled "Stupid in America: How Lack of Choice Cheats our Kids out of a Good Education," which aired recently on ABC's "20/20" program.

Reporter John Stossel's show focused on school vouchers and made no attempt to present an objective examination of the issue. South Carolina interviews and story elements that conflicted with Stossel's personal views were videotaped by ABC but were not used.

During my interview for the show, I was offended but not surprised by Stossel's determination to support his preconceived opinion about the quality of South Carolina's schools, and to ignore overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I was more offended but even less surprised that South Carolina's Governor - whose job it is to strengthen our schools and the economy they support - helped perpetuate a stereotype that is destructive, outdated, and wrong.

Fortunately, most South Carolinians know about the challenges our schools face and the tremendous progress we are making. Rock Hill Herald Editor Terry Plumb is among them. His excellent editorial responding to the "20/20" segment, published January 29, appears in its entirety below for those of us who like a more objective view of South Carolina's schools.

While all of us know the challenges our schools face every day, we will continue to celebrate the many achievements those same schools are making. And we will continue to celebrate the undeniable progress that is being made.


Being stupid in South Carolina
By Terry Plumb The Herald

Who's stupider?

South Carolina school children? Or their governor, who appears with his wife and kids as a poster family on a nationally televised TV program trashing public education?

Two weeks ago, Gov. Mark Sanford was interviewed by John Stossel on "20/20" for a segment titled, "Stupid in America: How Lack of Choice Cheats Our Kids Out of a Good Education." The program was a one-sided diatribe against public education, using a mishmash of anecdotal tales and dissatisfied individuals to characterize teachers as boring, schools as drug-filled and administrators as handcuffed by teacher unions that keep them from firing bad apples.

Do such abuses of the public trust occur? Surely, they do. Are they typical? Hardly.

Palmetto State viewers must have been startled by the dissatisfied family that "20/20" chose to interview. From a transcript of the show: "When the Sanford family moved from Charleston to Columbia, S.C., the family had a big concern: Where would the kids go to school? In most places, you must attend the public school in the zone where you live, but the middle school near the Sanford's new home was rated below average."

This was not a problem for the family, viewers were told, because Mark Sanford is governor and they could afford to send their four boys to private school. In fact, it was only after the Sanfords were invited "to send their kids to schools in better districts," that "Sanford realized how unfair the system was.

"'If you can buy a $250,000 or $300,000 house, you're gonna get some great public education,' Gov. Sanford said."

That's unmitigated crap. The Sanfords never have sent their kids to public school, even before they moved into the Governor's Mansion. Sanford was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and knows little to nothing about what takes place in public schools.

Time magazine labeled Sanford one of the three worst governors in America. He has been widely criticized for failing to reverse one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Think about it: Quality of schools is one of the first things companies examine before deciding to invest. What business executive is going to invest in a state where the governor goes on national TV to talk down public schools?

I have a proposal for the producers of "20/20": The next time they want to interview a South Carolina family about public schools, they can talk to the Plumbs of Rock Hill. We'll tell them about two daughters, their scholarships to prestigious colleges, their master's degrees and how they were launched on learning careers by dedicated public school teachers. And if they don't want to interview us, we'll give 'em 150 names of other families with similar success stories about South Carolina schools.

What our libertarian chief executive would say, of course, is that "school choice," the current buzz word for enticing the citizenry to subsidize private schools and home-schoolers, is essential for children who want to flee "failing schools."

Proponents of plans such as Sanford's pet Put Parents In Charge bill, which deservedly died in the Legislature last year, or a bill introduced last week to create $4,500 scholarships for poor children and $1,000 tax credits for the better off, would say that "school choice" is needed by families that cannot afford private school. When you ask how all these families would be served by these wunderschools, they assure you that the free market would accommodate the demand. That's what "choice" is all about, right?

More crap. Most private schools haven't got the capacity -- or the intention -- to serve but a tiny fraction of children now at inferior schools. Even if they did, a $4,500 scholarship wouldn't pay the freight at most private schools.

In an ideal world, all children would be raised in nurturing families and be served by exemplary schools. In reality, we live in a state plagued by two centuries of poverty and indifference to education, and are governed by politicians who lack the backbone to do anything about it.

In the words of Forrest Gump: "Stupid is as stupid does."

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