Colbert King’s latest Washington Post column is a marvel of concision, encompassing whole worlds of incoherence and crankery in a taut 580 words.
He begins by evoking the memory of two National Geographic Society staff members, three DC schoolteachers and three sixth-grade children who were killed on American Airlines Flight 77, nine years ago today. He transitions from there to–because these topics are related, apparently–his distaste for Michelle Rhee:
Underlying the dislike for Rhee is the suspicion that her education reforms — blessed by Fenty — are part of a well-calculated strategy to weed out African Americans from positions in the public school management and classrooms, thus making the schools more acceptable to the city’s growing number of well-off white people.
He’s not saying Michelle Rhee is engaged in racist hiring practices, you see. Other people are. Or at least, other people have suspicions. He’s just saying.
What’s worse, chancellor Rhee is supporting the re-election of the guy who hired her, instead of the guy who’s going to let her go:
And Rhee has only made matters worse. Last Saturday, she abandoned the role of a politically impartial school administrator. She jumped into the D.C. Democratic primary, campaigning in predominantly white Ward 3 — considered her base of support — to bring out that vote for Fenty on Tuesday. I have expressed admiration for Rhee’s courage in tackling the school system’s bureaucracy. But her decision to demonstrate her political biases by injecting herself into a partisan contest, especially in such a divisive way, was about the last thing this racially strained city needed. Her polarizing action cannot be undone. Worse still, she has irretrievably compromised her position as chancellor. How can black parents now trust her to be fair? Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome at the polls, Michelle Rhee should clean out her desk.
Apparently, Rhee’s obligations to impartiality include not choosing sides between the candidate who believes all the things she believes and the candidate who doesn’t. It’s exactly like a Supreme Court judge actively campaigning for a presidential candidate, except not at all.
The next mayor faces some daunting challenges. Addressing racial disunity should rank near the top. A school system mired in race is a system unable to prepare all of our children for the world beyond the classroom. It is not a world of sweetness and light, as 11-year-old D.C. Public Schools students Bernard Curtis Brown II, Asia Cottom and Rodney Dickens tragically discovered nine years ago today. That world is unchanged. We have no time for division.
Got that? Because a band of lunatic terrorists murdered three black schoolchildren from D.C., Michelle Rhee shouldn’t be firing teachers who are doing a bad job of teaching black schoolchildren from D.C. Now that she’s endorsed the re-election of our black mayor, how can black parents trust her to be fair?
Well-off people have an unusual ability to buy things they value. That’s what “well-off” means. Many people value education, and they can buy it by purchasing homes in districts with good schools. If the DC school system improves, I have no doubt more that more well-off people–not all of whom are white, by the way; a great many well-off people of color live in the greater DC metropolitan area–will choose to live here, resulting in a school system that is substantially more economically and racially diverse. I would note that many people think such integration is not only the best way to improve public education but the only way, and they tend to be deeply antagonistic to reformers like Rhee.
Why King chose to frame his accusations of racism with a 9/11 story, I can’t imagine. Well, actually, I can. I assume he wanted to say something about the children killed on 9/11, and he wanted to get in a final dig on Rhee before the election on Tuesday, so he just stuck them together, taste and logic be damned. Nine years later, I’m still astounded at how casually people are willing to use the pain of that day to support whatever petty grievance they happen to have. I’m still living in the house on Capitol Hill that my wife and I moved into late in August 2001, and I remember the smoke rising from the Pentagon over the Potomac into a crisp, clear blue sky–a sky exactly like the one I’m looking at from the same window, now–as if it only just happened. When you can’t understand that anymore, it’s time to pick up your prizes and well-deserved reputation and head home.