Arts Education, Chinese Food and Matt Yglesias’ Tale of Non Sequiturs

You know the saying: one is a coincidence, two is a pattern, three makes you a certified glutton for punishment.

For months I’ve watched Slate writer Matt Yglesias flail away, writing on education issues. First, he tried to pit teachers unions against taxpayers in a smug piece on the Chicago Teachers Union strike. Then he analyzed the phony StudentsFirst report card, treating it like an objective measure of state education policy rather than an ideological wish list of Michelle Rhee‘s pet priorities.

It was at that point that I started counting the days until Dana Goldstein, one of the best writers anywhere on education policy, completes her book and reclaims Slate’s education beat. After reading Yglesias’ latest big brain idea, Dana’s return can’t come soon enough.

How do you respond to a blog penned by someone who writes this, comparing neighborhood public schools to being forced to eat at the nearest restaurant?

In the best case scenario you’d have a neighborhood that wasn’t very diverse in which people could reach a consensus about what they wanted and deliver something that most people were happy with while marginalizing minority preferences.

To quote a fellow education activist, “That guy is the brainy smurf of pundits.”

Yglesias chose a frightfully poor analogy, and simultaneously engaged in the kind of disconnected, absolutist thinking frequently heard from the “reformers” crowd in promoting their education causes.

I guess his strange piece positing that “bad food” is the product of sending children to schools “closest to their house” is the next level up on the food pyramid from Jeb Bush at the GOP convention linking school choice to shopping for milk.

Go down any supermarket aisle – you’ll find an incredible selection of milk. You can get whole milk, 2% milk, low-fat milk or skim milk. Organic milk, and milk with extra Vitamin D. There’s flavored milk— chocolate, strawberry or vanilla – and it doesn’t even taste like milk. They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk.

While it’s nothing short of amazing that I can walk into a grocery store and select milk in assorted flavors and fat content, the milk in my local Giant doesn’t speak more than 160 different languages. And that’s where the analogy breaks down because, Jeb, children are not a consumer product and, Matthew, schools are not restaurants.

Access to a quality, well-rounded education is not the same as opting for Chinese food or Indian cuisine. Education is not a trivial matter like a gastronomic preference; it’s a civil right. If the arts, which feed our spiritual and creative sides, are extraneous in public education, why do private schools pride themselves on having arts-infused academics?

I guarantee that Yglesias’ “fairly artsy” parents would have exposed him to art, music and drama no matter where he went to school; poor students can’t rely on the same level of arts exposure outside the school setting. If we want to give all students equal opportunities, then arts for all must be part of the equation.

Will some kids benefit from the arts more than others? Of course. I’m sure Wynton Marsalis got more out of elementary school music than Bill Gates did. Then again, Gates probably got more out of math.

The problem is, how do you know which kid is which at the ripe old age of five?