Education, Teachers' Unions, and the NAACP

Posted: Sun Oct 28, 2007 3:17 pm Post subject: Education, Minorities, Teachers’ Unions, and the NAACP


Dear Customer, The NAACP is demanding an apology from me. I must respectfully refuse. Since this is making national headlines, I write to explain what is going on.Overstock is based in Utah, where 42% of minority children fail to graduate from high school: this is a calamity of epic proportions. In the last few years I have sought to use such resources as Overstock’s success provide me to pay for the education of hundreds of low-income and minority children in Utah, where many private schools have tuitions ranging from $2,500 to $3,800. (I also built 19 schools and orphanages in Afghanistan, Nepal, and in Africa and South America, schools that now educate 6,000 kids, mostly female: all these schools are named after my Mom). Recently I appeared on TV to criticize the Utah system for failing 42% of minority kids. My argument is that in a global economy people compete on the skill sets they acquire in school. Accepting the current situation is like saying that we as a society are OK with discarding 42% of minority kids, wasting their lives like one would burn a pile of leaves (incidentally, I purposefully choose such horrific images in order to cut through the polite euphemisms by which some assuage their guilt over the current situation). Indeed, I have been supporting a new Utah law that will allow such low-income children to receive grants of $3,000 towards tuition in private schools (the law, which provides grants of only $500 to children of higher-income families, is designed to serve the interests of lower income children). Nationally, between 57% and 77% of Hispanic and African-Americans support such programs: the numbers are even higher when considering just those minority families with children of school age years.

Teachers’ unions are against letting poor children get a better education outside of the current system. They are defending their guild, which is to say, the status quo, which is to say, in this case, a system that currently destroys the prospects of 42% of Utah’s minority kids. In a fine display of the intellectual integrity that marks their arguments, they are attacking an excerpt from that recent appearance I made, carefully edited to make it seem like I was endorsing the act of throwing such kids away rather than decrying the system which permits it. It apparently is convincing to no one, as 100% of the dozens of letters I have received (many from people who identify themselves as minorities) make clear they support and understand what I said, even through the deceptive editing. Even journalists writing about it are exposing the mendacity of this campaign.

Unfortunately, this is an issue where the NAACP’s ties with the teachers’ union leaves it at odds with the wishes of the great majority of African American and Hispanic families. Last Friday the Utah Chapter of the NAACP held a joint press conference with the teachers’ union, which apparently had misled the NAACP by not even providing them my statement, unedited. Based on a review of this, the NAACP has demanded an apology from me. I refuse. I have long respected the NAACP, but their moral authority is their brand, and I believe they are squandering that moral authority by staking out a position based on so deceptive a tactic as the one to which this union has resorted, and more generally, by being so joined-at-the-hip to this union that they would oppose a law which is supported by a strong majority of Black and Hispanic families and whose benefits are overwhelmingly directed to their children. The statistics we read about drop-out rates are, in fact, statistics about lives shredded: if my language be gruff, it is because I want Americans to see what is at the tip of their newspaper spoon. In my view, the ones who owe an apology are those who accept and defend a status quo which is squandering the prospects of 42% of Utah’s minority kids.

Patrick M. Byrne

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