The Tax-Cut Con

The advocates of tax cuts are relentless, even fanatical. An indication of the movement’s fervor — and of its political power — came during the Iraq war. War is expensive and is almost always accompanied by tax increases. But not in 2003. ”Nothing is more important in the face of a war,” declared Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, ”than cutting taxes.” And sure enough, taxes were cut, not just in a time of war but also in the face of record budget deficits. Nor will it be easy to reverse those tax cuts: the tax-cut movement has convinced many Americans — like Tinsley — that everybody still pays far too much in taxes.

.. A result of the tax-cut crusade is that there is now a fundamental mismatch between the benefits Americans expect to receive from the government and the revenues government collect. This mismatch is already having profound effects at the state and local levels: teachers and policemen are being laid off and children are being denied health insurance. The federal government can mask its problems for a while, by running huge budget deficits, but it, too, will eventually have to decide whether to cut services or raise taxes. And we are not talking about minor policy adjustments. If taxes stay as low as they are now, government as we know it cannot be maintained. In particular, Social Security will have to become far less generous; Medicare will no longer be able to guarantee comprehensive medical care to older Americans; Medicaid will no longer provide basic medical care to the poor.

.. The reason Tinsley’s comic strip about the angry taxpayer caught my eye was, of course, that the numbers were all wrong. Very few Americans pay as much as 50 percent of their income in taxes; on average, families near the middle of the income distribution pay only about half that percentage in federal, state and local taxes combined.

.. In fact, though most Americans feel that they pay too much in taxes, they get off quite lightly compared with the citizens of other advanced countries. Furthermore, for most Americans tax rates probably haven’t risen for a generation. And a few Americans — namely those with high incomes — face much lower taxes than they did a generation ago.

.. In the United States, all taxes — federal, state and local — reached a peak of 29.6 percent of G.D.P. in 2000. That number was, however, swollen by taxes on capital gains during the stock-market bubble.

By 2002, the tax take was down to 26.3 percent of G.D.P., and all indications are that it will be lower still this year and next.

This is a low number compared with almost every other advanced country. In 1999, Canada collected 38.2 percent of G.D.P. in taxes, France collected 45.8 percent and Sweden, 52.2 percent.

.. Meanwhile, wealthy Americans have seen a sharp drop in their tax burden. The top tax rate — the income-tax rate on the highest bracket — is now 35 percent, half what it was in the 1970’s. With the exception of a brief period between 1988 and 1993, that’s the lowest rate since 1932. Other taxes that, directly or indirectly, bear mainly on the very affluent have also been cut sharply. The effective tax rate on corporate profits has been cut in half since the 1960’s. The 2001 tax cut phases out the inheritance tax, which is overwhelmingly a tax on the very wealthy: in 1999, only 2 percent of estates paid any tax, and half the tax was paid by only 3,300 estates worth more than $5 million. The 2003 tax act sharply cuts taxes on dividend income, another boon to the very well off. By the time the Bush tax cuts have taken full effect, people with really high incomes will face their lowest average tax rate since the Hoover administration.

.. Yet a significant number of Americans rage against taxes, and the party that controls all three branches of the federal government has made tax cuts its supreme priority. Why?

3. Supply-Siders, Starve-the-Beasters and Lucky Duckies

It is often hard to pin down what antitax crusaders are trying to achieve. The reason is not, or not only, that they are disingenuous about their motives — though as we will see, disingenuity has become a hallmark of the movement in recent years. Rather, the fuzziness comes from the fact that today’s antitax movement moves back and forth between two doctrines. Both doctrines favor the same thing: big tax cuts for people with high incomes. But they favor it for different reasons.

One of those doctrines has become famous under the name ”supply-side economics.” It’s the view that the government can cut taxes without severe cuts in public spending. The other doctrine is often referred to as ”starving the beast,” a phrase coined by David Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s budget director. It’s the view that taxes should be cut precisely in order to force severe cuts in public spending. Supply-side economics is the friendly, attractive face of the tax-cut movement. But starve-the-beast is where the power lies.

.. So the standard view of economists is that if you want to reduce the burden of taxes, you must explain what government programs you want to cut as part of the deal. There’s no free lunch.

What the supply-siders argued, however, was that there was a free lunch. Cutting marginal rates, they insisted, would lead to such a large increase in gross domestic product that it wouldn’t be necessary to come up with offsetting spending cuts.

.. The other camp in the tax-cut crusade actually welcomes the revenue losses from tax cuts. Its most visible spokesman today is Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who once told National Public Radio: ”I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” And the way to get it down to that size is to starve it of revenue. ”The goal is reducing the size and scope of government by draining its lifeblood,” Norquist told U.S. News & World Report.

.. Edwin Feulner, the foundation’s president, uses ”New Deal” and ”Great Society” as terms of abuse, implying that he and his organization want to do away with the institutions Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson created. That means Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid — most of what gives citizens of the United States a safety net against economic misfortune.

.. The starve-the-beast doctrine is now firmly within the conservative mainstream. George W. Bush himself seemed to endorse the doctrine as the budget surplus evaporated: in August 2001 he called the disappearing surplus ”incredibly positive news” because it would put Congress in a ”fiscal straitjacket.”

.. to starve the beast, you must not only deny funds to the government; you must make voters hate the government. There’s a danger that working-class families might see government as their friend: because their incomes are low, they don’t pay much in taxes, while they benefit from public spending. So in starving the beast, you must take care not to cut taxes on these ”lucky duckies.” (Yes, that’s what The Wall Street Journal called them in a famous editorial.) In fact, if possible, you must raise taxes on working-class Americans in order, as The Journal said, to get their ”blood boiling with tax rage.”

.. The supply-side movement likes to present itself as a school of economic thought like Keynesianism or monetarism — that is, as a set of scholarly ideas that made their way, as such ideas do, into political discussion. But the reality is quite different. Supply-side economics was a political doctrine from Day 1; it emerged in the pages of political magazines, not professional economics journals.

.. That is not to deny that many professional economists favor tax cuts. But they almost always turn out to be starve-the-beasters, not supply-siders.

.. And they often secretly — or sometimes not so secretly — hold supply-siders in contempt. N. Gregory Mankiw, now chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, is definitely a friend to tax cuts; but in the first edition of his economic-principles textbook, he described Ronald Reagan’s supply-side advisers as ”charlatans and cranks.”

..Douglas Holtz-Eakin  .. his conclusion was that unless the revenue losses from the proposed tax cuts were offset by spending cuts, the resulting deficits would be a drag on growth, quite likely to outweigh any supply-side effects.

.. since the 1970’s almost all of the prominent supply-siders have been aides to conservative politicians, writers at conservative publications like National Review, fellows at conservative policy centers like Heritage or economists at private companies with strong Republican connections. Loosely speaking, that is, supply-siders work for the vast right-wing conspiracy.

.. What gives supply-side economics influence is its connection with a powerful network of institutions that want to shrink the government and see tax cuts as a way to achieve that goal. Supply-side economics is a feel-good cover story for a political movement with a much harder-nosed agenda.

.. Irving Kristol, in his role as co-editor of The Public Interest, was arguably the single most important proponent of supply-side economics. But years later, he suggested that he himself wasn’t all that persuaded by the doctrine: ”I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities.” Writing in 1995, he explained that his real aim was to shrink the government and that tax cuts were a means to that end: ”The task, as I saw it, was to create a new majority, which evidently would mean a conservative majority, which came to mean, in turn, a Republican majority — so political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.”

.. In effect, what Kristol said in 1995 was that he and his associates set out to deceive the American public. They sold tax cuts on the pretense that they would be painless, when they themselves believed that it would be necessary to slash public spending in order to make room for those cuts.

.. But one supposes that the response would be that the end justified the means — that the tax cuts did benefit all Americans because they led to faster economic growth. Did they?

.. skeptics say that rapid growth after 1982 proves nothing: a severe recession is usually followed by a period of fast growth, as unemployed workers and factories are brought back on line. The test of tax cuts as a spur to economic growth is whether they produced more than an ordinary business cycle recovery. Once the economy was back to full employment, was it bigger than you would otherwise have expected? And there Reagan fails the test: between 1979, when the big slump began, and 1989, when the economy finally achieved more or less full employment again, the growth rate was 3 percent, the same as the growth rate between the two previous business cycle peaks in 1973 and 1979. Or to put it another way, by the late 1980’s the U.S. economy was about where you would have expected it to be, given the trend in the 1970’s. Nothing in the data suggests a supply-side revolution.

.. Does this mean that the Reagan tax cuts had no effect? Of course not. Those tax cuts, combined with increased military spending, provided a good old-fashioned Keynesian boost to demand.

.. While the Reagan tax cuts didn’t produce any visible supply-side gains, they did lead to large budget deficits. From the point of view of most economists, this was a bad thing. But for starve-the-beast tax-cutters, deficits are potentially a good thing, because they force the government to shrink. So did Reagan’s deficits shrink the beast?

..  In response to these deficits, George Bush the elder went back on his ”read my lips” pledge and raised taxes. Bill Clinton raised them further. And thereby hangs a tale.

.. Clinton did exactly the opposite of what supply-side economics said you should do: he raised the marginal rate on high-income taxpayers. In 1989, the top 1 percent of families paid, on average, only 28.9 percent of their income in federal taxes; by 1995, that share was up to 36.1 percent.

Conservatives confidently awaited a disaster — but it failed to materialize. In fact, the economy grew at a reasonable pace through Clinton’s first term, while the deficit and the unemployment rate went steadily down. And then the news got even better: unemployment fell to its lowest level in decades without causing inflation, while productivity growth accelerated to rates not seen since the 1960’s. And the budget deficit turned into an impressive surplus.

Tax-cut advocates had claimed the Reagan years as proof of their doctrine’s correctness; as we have seen, those claims wilt under close examination. But the Clinton years posed a much greater challenge: here was a president who sharply raised the marginal tax rate on high-income taxpayers, the very rate that the tax-cut movement cares most about. And instead of presiding over an economic disaster, he presided over an economic miracle.

.. the Clinton-era surge probably reflected the maturing of information technology: businesses finally figured out how to make effective use of computers, and the resulting surge in productivity drove the economy forward. But the fact that America’s best growth in a generation took place after the government did exactly the opposite of what tax-cutters advocate was a body blow to their doctrine.

.. They tried to make the best of the situation. The good economy of the late 1990’s, ardent tax-cutters insisted, was caused by the 1981 tax cut. Early in 2000, Lawrence Kudlow and Stephen Moore, prominent supply-siders, published an article titled ”It’s the Reagan Economy, Stupid.”

.. But anyone who thought about the lags involved found this implausible — indeed, hilarious. If the tax-cut movement attributed the booming economy of 1999 to a tax cut Reagan pushed through 18 years earlier, why didn’t they attribute the economic boom of 1983 and 1984 — Reagan’s ”morning in America” — to whatever Lyndon Johnson was doing in 1965 and 1966?

.. By the end of the 1990’s, in other words, supply-side economics had become something of a laughingstock

..  the most striking example of what skillful marketing can accomplish is the campaign for repeal of the estate tax.

.. the estate tax is a tax on the very, very well off. Yet advocates of repeal began portraying it as a terrible burden on the little guy. They renamed it the ”death tax” and put out reports decrying its impact on struggling farmers and businessmen — reports that never provided real-world examples because actual cases of family farms or small businesses broken up to pay estate taxes are almost impossible to find. This campaign succeeded in creating a public perception that the estate tax falls broadly on the population. Earlier this year, a poll found that 49 percent of Americans believed that most families had to pay the estate tax, while only 33 percent gave the right answer that only a few families had to pay.

.. the public rationale for tax cuts has shifted repeatedly over the past three years.

.. During the 2000 campaign and the initial selling of the 2001 tax cut, the Bush team insisted that the federal government was running an excessive budget surplus, which should be returned to taxpayers. By the summer of 2001, as it became clear that the projected budget surpluses would not materialize, the administration shifted to touting the tax cuts as a form of demand-side economic stimulus: by putting more money in consumers’ pockets, the tax cuts would stimulate spending and help pull the economy out of recession. By 2003, the rationale had changed again: the administration argued that reducing taxes on dividend income, the core of its plan, would improve incentives and hence long-run growth — that is, it had turned to a supply-side argument.

.. So what were the Bush tax cuts really about? The best answer seems to be that they were about securing a key part of the Republican base. Wealthy campaign contributors have a lot to gain from lower taxes, and since they aren’t very likely to depend on Medicare, Social Security or Medicaid, they won’t suffer if the beast gets starved. Equally important was the support of the party’s intelligentsia, nurtured by policy centers like Heritage and professionally committed to the tax-cut crusade. The original Bush tax-cut proposal was devised in late 1999 not to win votes in the national election but to fend off a primary challenge from the supply-sider Steve Forbes, the presumptive favorite of that part of the base.

..  the selling of the tax cuts has depended heavily on chicanery. The administration has used accounting trickery to hide the true budget impact of its proposals, and it has used misleading presentations to conceal the extent to which its tax cuts are tilted toward families with very high income.

.. The most important tool of accounting trickery, though not the only one, is the use of ”sunset clauses” to understate the long-term budget impact of tax cuts.

.. But, of course, nobody expects the sunset to occur: when 2011 rolls around, Congress will be under immense pressure to extend the tax cuts.

.. the administration has carried out a very successful campaign to portray these tax cuts as mainly aimed at middle-class families. This campaign is similar in spirit to the selling of estate-tax repeal as a populist measure, but considerably more sophisticated.

.. the 2001 tax cut, once fully phased in, will deliver 42 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent of the income distribution.

.. It might seem impossible to put a populist gloss on tax cuts this skewed toward the rich, but the administration has been remarkably successful in doing just that.

.. One technique involves exploiting the public’s lack of statistical sophistication. In the selling of the 2003 tax cut, the catch phrase used by administration spokesmen was ”92 million Americans will receive an average tax cut of $1,083.’‘ That sounded, and was intended to sound, as if every American family would get $1,083. Needless to say, that wasn’t true.

.. About half of American families received a tax cut of less than $100; the great majority, a tax cut of less than $500.

.. David Stockman famously admitted that Reagan’s middle-class tax cuts were a ”Trojan horse” that allowed him to smuggle in what he really wanted, a cut in the top marginal rate.

.. If a couple had multiple children, if the children were all still under 18 and if the couple’s income was just high enough to allow it to take full advantage of the child credit, it could get a tax cut of as much as 4 percent of pretax income. Hence the couple with two children and an income of $40,000, receiving a tax cut of $1,600

.. But while most couples have children, at any given time only a small minority of families contains two or more children under 18 — and many of these families have income too low to take full advantage of the child tax credit. So that ”typical” family wasn’t typical at all. Last year, the actual tax break for families in the middle of the income distribution averaged $469, not $1,600.

.. through a combination of hardball politics, deceptive budget arithmetic and systematic misrepresentation of who benefits, Bush’s team has achieved a major reduction of taxes, especially for people with very high incomes.

.. Alan Auerbach, William Gale and Peter Orszag, fiscal experts at the Brookings Institution, have estimated the size of the ”fiscal gap” — the increase in revenues or reduction in spending that would be needed to make the nation’s finances sustainable in the long run. If you define the long run as 75 years, this gap turns out to be 4.5 percent of G.D.P. Or to put it another way, the gap is equal to 30 percent of what the federal government spends on all domestic programs. Of that gap, about 60 percent is the result of the Bush tax cuts. We would have faced a serious fiscal problem even if those tax cuts had never happened. But we face a much nastier problem now that they are in place. And more broadly, the tax-cut crusade will make it very hard for any future politicians to raise taxes.

So how will this gap be closed? The crucial point is that it cannot be closed without either fundamentally redefining the role of government or sharply raising taxes.

.. Politicians will, of course, promise to eliminate wasteful spending. But take out Social Security, Medicare, defense, Medicaid, government pensions, homeland security, interest on the public debt and veterans’ benefits — none of them what people who complain about waste usually have in mind — and you are left with spending equal to about 3 percent of gross domestic product. And most of that goes for courts, highways, education and other useful things. Any savings from elimination of waste and fraud will amount to little more than a rounding-off error.

.. Let’s assume that interest on the public debt will be paid, that spending on defense and homeland security will not be compromised and that the regular operations of government will continue to be financed. What we are left with, then, are the New Deal and Great Society programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment insurance. And to close the fiscal gap, spending on these programs would have to be cut by around 40 percent.

.. It goes almost without saying that the age at which Americans become eligible for retirement benefits would rise, that Social Security payments would fall sharply compared with average incomes, that Medicare patients would be forced to pay much more of their expenses out of pocket — or do without. And that would be only a start.

.. All this sounds politically impossible. In fact, politicians of both parties have been scrambling to expand, not reduce, Medicare benefits by adding prescription drug coverage

.. I think within a decade, though not everyone agrees — the bond market will tell us that we have to make a choice.

In short, everything is going according to plan.

.. Some supporters of President Bush may have really believed that his tax cuts were consistent with his promises to protect Social Security and expand Medicare; some people may still believe that the wondrous supply-side effects of tax cuts will make the budget deficit disappear. But for starve-the-beast tax-cutters, the coming crunch is exactly what they had in mind.

.. In Norquist’s vision, America a couple of decades from now will be a place in which

  • elderly people make up a disproportionate share of the poor, as they did before Social Security. It will also be a country in which
  • even middle-class elderly Americans are, in many cases, unable to afford expensive medical procedures or prescription drugs and in which
  • poor Americans generally go without even basic health care. And it may well be a place in which only
  • those who can afford expensive private schools can give their children a decent education.

The Benefits of Sending Your Privileged Child to an “Underperforming” School

The private school down the street from our house is very good at advertising exactly why it’s awesome. They have a beautiful, comprehensive website and a big canvas banner outside the sprawling campus that reads:

“Park Day prepares students to be informed, courageous, and compassionate people who shape a more equitable and sustainable world.”

It also has a tall 10-foot fence and a gate that opens and closes when parents drive in to drop their children off. My daughters and I sometimes catch a glimpse of the chickens wandering around inside and what looks like a super fun playground. Someone once tried to get us the code but we were told there was a crackdown after too many neighborhood kids found their way in. It costs $25,790 a year for kindergarten.

.. If you’re trying to decide where to send your kid to school, it’s pretty logical to ask yourself: what might my kid gain from going to the most highly rated school in town? That school is, very likely, really good at answering that — whether it’s public or private.

.. If you are trying to be socially-conscious, you might even ask yourself: what do other kids lose if my kid doesn’t go to the neighborhood, public school

.. Those kids lose the friendship that your kid might offer, and in a roundabout way, the whole system loses out on your family’s energy, loyalty, and resources. The “public” part of public schools gets eroded when too many parents get understandably seduced by the places with the pithy taglines and the great websites.

But let’s flip the script. Let’s explore a different question: what do white and/or economically privileged kids gain from living in diverse neighborhoods and going to their local, public schools?

.. The most critical reason to send your privileged kid to public school: integrity. If you believe in the common good, of which public schools are the most fundamental building block this country has to offer, then participating in that system makes good sense.

.. Contributing through your attention and cultural capital, offering up your most precious resource — your love for your child — and letting that love expand and benefit a bunch of kids who are also deeply loved by their parents, but quite possibly, not in a position to forgo the failing, neighborhood school — well, it’s aligned. It feels right.

The modern American culture of parenting would lead you to believe that you can’t prioritize the common good and your own child at the same time — that the only way to be an excellent parent is to get the measurable best of everything for your child, which inherently means turning a blind eye to what other people’s kids endure. What if, instead, what is healthy for your child — not “best,” but healthy — is to receive no end of love and only proportional resources, and to witness parents trying to fumble their way toward closing the gap between their values and their actions each and every exhausting day?

A related, foundational reason: equality. Our public schools perpetuate racism and classism more systematically and effectively than almost any other institution we’ve got in this country. If you want to fight white supremacy and the legacy of slavery, public schools are a decent place to start.

.. Shannan Martin and her husband both grew up in small towns, heavily influenced by their all-white Evangelical Church. “We thought our duty was to live as safe and protected a life as possible,” she explains. But when they moved to Goshen, Indiana — the RV capital of the world — they decided to enroll their three children in a Latinx-majority public school, despite their neighbors’ warning. She explains: “We sent our kids to a ‘failing’ elementary school where, they told us, there would be drugs, evolution, gay people, and gangs.”

“It is the best thing that ever happened to us. I cringe to know how much a part of the problem I once was,” she says.

“I can only hope I continue to grow in ways that grind my old paradigms into dust. We have been here long enough to wake up to the overwhelming goodness of being part of a rich and diverse community. We understand our presence here does not enhance the lives of those around us nearly as much as their presence enhances our lives.”

Your kid doesn’t just learn diversity, but lives diversity.

Minorities will be the source of all of the growth in the nation’s youth and working age population, most of the growth in its voters, and much of the growth in its consumers and tax base as far into the future as we can see.”

.. demographics are going to shift dramatically; the flow of actual power — economic and political, especially — out of white, male hands may take longer. Even so, white children raised in white dominant spaces are inherently less equipped for the workforce, not to mention world, that they are entering into

.. The rise of artificial intelligence will also mean that so-called “soft skills” — like getting along with a wide range of humanity — will become more and more critical. Our children, particularly our white children, will be deeply disserviced if they come of age in segregated enclaves that teach them about racial difference without giving them the opportunity to actually live with and among those racially and culturally different from them. They will be less effective communicators, collaborators, inventors, and artists. They will be less wise and generous citizens and neighbors. In a world increasingly intolerant of white obliviousness and fragility, they will be set up for a kind of social and emotional failure.

.. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

.. Whiteness is often treated as a default state, rather than an actual culture in and of itself.

.. Kids who grow up in multiracial environments are more likely to be aware of how white culture shapes them, and have some valuable perspective on selectively adopting or rejecting it.

You and your kid get to be part of a community with non-white values.

.. One of the dominant norms of white privileged culture, in its contemporary form, is an emphasis on independence and a very particular and narrow kind of excellence.

Our favorite parenting books are filled with advice about how we might shape our children into high achievers.

We even plaster this ideology on our bumpers: “My kid is an honors student.” The dark side of all of this opportunity and emphasis on “winning” is that a lot of kids are left feeling like losers; sometimes to the point of questioning their own intrinsic worthiness.

What if your kid isn’t an honors student? What if your kid has a learning disability, but is an awesome gymnast or the kind of person who really senses when people are upset and knows how to help them out of a funk? There are no grades or bumper stickers for that.

Schools that aren’t majority white are, according to dozens of emails I received from parents, far more welcoming of kids who don’t fit a traditional mold.

As any parent of a child with special needs will tell you, most schools with high test scores aren’t thrilled to hear that our kids will be attending their schools. They don’t like the fact that our kids bring extra work.”

.. “These are schools that don’t have the money that our schools in the suburbs have, but they promote an inclusive environment for all students, which is worth far more to us in the long run,”

.. “I’ve gotten gasps and shocked looks when I tell people where I’m sending my son to school. I just smile and say that a school that can see the value my child adds to a class and that is willing to educate him fully alongside his peers, with the accommodations he needs, is the best school for him, regardless of location.”

.. One of her children needed to get pulled out of class regularly for speech therapy. Worried, Maggi asked the counselor if she should anticipate him getting teased and what she might do to prepare him for that. The counselor didn’t skip a beat before responding: “At this school? No—there is no normal here, so there’s no teasing kids who are different. The kids are used to everybody being unique.”

.. The teachers get to explore a wider range of teaching methods, too, according to Anne Kelterborn, an educator in Red Bank, NJ. She explains: “I have taught in both urban and suburban schools, and I have found that the ‘struggling urban’ schools tend to embrace far more creative and committed educators than in suburban schools.”

..  Amy Wheedon, of the D.C. area, felt like the parent association was a gauntlet of sorts at her kids’ mostly white elementary school. “Parents competed to lead new initiatives,” she explains. At their far more multiracial middle school, things are different: “Parents come out to celebrate their kids—at games, banquets and honor roll assemblies. Their jobs are tough enough; they aren’t looking for other ones. They want to leave work and have fun and spend time with their kids.

.. The economic pressure is often lessened in less white-dominant spaces. Krista Dutt, whose white kids attend a majority-minority school in the Chicago-area, explains, “We barely make ends meet, so being in a school and a neighborhood that people are surviving, not trying to beat each other at making the best birthday party, the best Valentine’s, or trying to prove that they don’t need the village is really great.”

You and your kids get practice being uncomfortable.

A more accepting school community, of course, doesn’t mean that your kid won’t experience discomfort. In fact, they will probably experience discomfort so often that they will get better and better at not just enduring it, but learning from it.

.. MLK day went for her kindergarten-age son. During a talk about the civil rights era bus boycotts, he excitedly shouted, “I would have gotten to sit in the back of the bus?!”

.. Her daughter, one of only a handful of non-native Spanish speakers in her Spanish honors class, came home and reported that none of her peers were giving her the time of day. “They thinks I’m just a basic white girl,” she told her mom.

As any mother would, Alison felt protective, but she also recognized that this was a defining moment: “For an hour a day, she knows what it is like to be in the minority, to find the rules confusing and feel like you’re a step or two behind, perhaps being judged and laughed at,” Alison explains. “I think most parents want to avoid that situation for their kids, but I think it’s a really important one.”

Alison told her daughter: “Be friendly, be yourself, be open about your life.”

After a few weeks, she started sharing stories around the dinner table about moments in her Spanish class when she got another student to laugh. It sounds small, but it’s actually big. Alison’s daughter doesn’t have to make a big empathic leap to understand what it feels like to be the minority in a given group of people. She’s lived it. She’s coped with it. She’s less likely to take her own sense of belonging for granted or to be oblivious when someone else is feeling isolated.

.. kids who see qualities as things that can be developed, rather than traits that you either possess or don’t, tend to thrive.

.. A white kid with a growth mindset around race knows that discomfort is a good sign of learning; they don’t fall apart at the first sign of confusion or critique.

In contrast, white kids who have been educated in perfectionist, homogenous environments and rarely weathered discomfort are likely to have a fixed mindset towards race. They are more interested in winning social entrepreneurship awards, than becoming wiser within unlikely, sometimes challenging, and deeply rewarding relationships.

Parenting, as it turns out, is a fairly new framework for what those of us with kids are up to. The term didn’t even exist until the latter half of the twentieth century, when upwardly mobile Americans started living in a more atomized way, separate from grandparents and aunts and uncles. Prior to that, caring for children was something that a wide range of people did, including older siblings and cousins. There wasn’t such a sense of needing to “do it right” by reading the right books, eating the right foods, saying the right things, and yes, getting into the right schools.

.. Alison Gopnik, a psychology and philosophy professor, points out that many of us — particularly white and privileged people — now approach the role of raising humans like carpenters. In short, we try to carve them into our own image of what a successful adult looks like. Her suggestion? Think of yourself more akin to a gardener — you create the right conditions and let nature do the rest.

.. If you send your kid to a school where they are surrounded by other kids quite unlike them — racially, culturally, religiously, socio-economically — you are providing a pretty rich and interesting ecosystem within which they can grow. Gardens, like communities, are healthiest when they’re diverse. If you plant your kids in a monoculture, expect less richness.

It was a beautiful fall day. My then kindergarten-age daughter, Thea, discovered that a few of her school friends were at our neighborhood park — Chelina from Cambodia, Yosselin from Guatemala, Devina and Tazaiah, both African American. They were lost in play for nearly two hours. On our walk back home, I said to her, ‘You know, Thea, these friends at the park — your friends from school — may have been coming to the park for years, like when they were 3 and 4 years old and when you were 3 and 4, too. But you didn’t know them then because you didn’t go to school with them. Isn’t that crazy?’

My daughter, who is very nurturing and loves her friends, responded, “But I would be sad if they weren’t my friends.”

I said, “But you wouldn’t be sad, because you wouldn’t know them.”

Thea said, “But I would still be sad.”

 

Richard Rohr Meditation: Awakening to Our True Self

The term “perennial philosophy” . . . refers to a fourfold realization:

(1) there is only one Reality (call it, among other names, God, Mother, Tao, Allah, Dharmakaya, Brahman, or Great Spirit) that is the source and substance of all creation;

(2) that while each of us is a manifestation of this Reality, most of us identify with something much smaller, that is, our culturally conditioned individual ego;

(3) that this identification with the smaller self gives rise to needless anxiety, unnecessary suffering, and cross-cultural competition and violence; and

(4) that peace, compassion, and justice naturally replace anxiety, needless suffering, competition, and violence when we realize our true nature as a manifestation of this singular Reality.

The great sages and mystics of every civilization throughout human history have taught these truths in the language of their time and culture. —Rami Shapiro

Education as it is currently understood, particularly in the West, ignores the human soul, or essential Self. This essential Self is not some vague entity whose existence is a matter of speculation, but our fundamental “I,” which has been covered over by social conditioning and by the superficiality of our rational mind. In North America we are in great need of a form of training that would contribute to the awakening of the essential Self. Such forms of training have existed in other eras and cultures and have been available to those with the yearning to awaken from the sleep of their limited conditioning and know the potential latent in the human being. —Kabir Helminski [2]

.. These are key reasons that the Center for Action and Contemplation is dedicated to reinvigorating the teaching of Christian contemplation. The consistent practice of contemplation helps to uncover our essential Self, our connected Self, our True Self. 

Unfortunately, separateness is the chosen stance of the small self which has a hard time living in unity and love with the One, Ultimate Reality, and the diverse manifestations of this Reality (i.e., ourselves, other people, and everything else). The small self takes one side or the other in order to feel secure. It frames reality in a binary way: for me or against me, totally right or totally wrong, my group’s opinion or another group’s—all dualistic formulations.

That is the best the small egotistical self can do, yet it is not anywhere close to adequate. It might be an early level of intelligence, but it is not mature wisdom. The small self is still objectively in union with God, it just does not know it, enjoy it, or draw upon it. Jesus asked, “Is it not written in your own law, ‘You are gods’?” (John 10:34). But for most of us, this objective divine image has not yet become the subjective likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). Our life’s goal is to illustrate both the image and the likeness of God by living in conscious loving union with God. It is a moment by moment choice and surrender.

‘Access to Literacy’ Is Not a Constitutional Right, Judge in Detroit Rules

Do students at poorly performing schools have a constitutional right to a better education?

On Friday, a Federal District Court judge in Michigan decided that they did not when he dismissed a class-action lawsuit filed by students at troubled schools in Detroit.

The suit, filed in September 2016, argued that students at some of the city’s most underperforming schools — serving mostly racial minorities — had been denied “access to literacy” because of underfunding, mismanagement and discrimination.

The complaint described schools that were overcrowded with students but lacking in teachers; courses without basic resources like books and pencils; and classrooms that were bitingly cold in the winter, stiflingly hot in the summer and infested with rats and insects.

Conditions like those, the lawsuit said, contributed to dismal test scores and left students woefully underprepared for life after high school.

“The abysmal conditions and appalling outcomes in plaintiffs’ schools are unprecedented,” the complaint said. “And they would be unthinkable in schools serving predominantly white, affluent student populations.”

.. Judge Stephen J. Murphy III said that “access to literacy” — which he also referred to as a “minimally adequate education” — was not a fundamental right. And he said the lawsuit had failed to show that the state had practiced overt racial discrimination.

But he conceded that the conditions at some Detroit schools were “nothing short of devastating.”

.. “Historically, access to literacy has been a tool to subordinate certain groups and certain communities and to keep those communities down,” he said.

.. A dilapidated history book at Osborn High School with a publication date of 1998, in photographs provided by a law firm.

.. He also agreed that giving students the opportunity to learn to read was “of incalculable importance,” adding that some level of literacy was necessary for voting, applying for a job and securing a place to live.

.. “But those points do not necessarily make access to literacy a fundamental right,” he said.

.. Paul Tractenberg, an expert in education and constitutional law and a professor emeritus at Rutgers Law School, said lawsuits like this one are typically filed — and have a better chance of success — in state-level courts.

“In theory, it would be a great breakthrough to have the federal courts recognize education as a fundamental right,” he said. “But I see no chance of that happening in my lifetime.”