The Salt Lake Tribune Declines…

On May 20, the Salt Lake Tribune published an opinion-editorial, “South Carolina has something to teach us about vouchers”, by Paul T. Mero, president of Sutherland Institute.  In the op-ed, which was an excerpt from an essay, Defending “Systems” and Freeing Slaves, Mero addressed the debate over school vouchers and its parallels between the coercive system of slavery and Utah’s inflexible system of public schools.  This topic prompted several people to respond to the Salt Lake Tribune and of those published (six letters to the editor and two full-length opinion-editorials), all were in disagreement with Mero.  Saying there wasn’t enough print space, the Tribune’s editorial board decided they were not going to run the following response by Pastor Richard L. Davis, president of Clergy for Educational Options, a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of African-American and other minority families to access all educational and economical options.

In the spirit of open dialogue, Sutherland prints Pastor Davis’ letter to the editor in full:

“Wow! Paul Mero uses the ‘S’ word. Some might think it is inappropriate and that he is way off key.  Others may have a problem with it because they may believe that he has no right to use the ‘S’ word any more than he would the ‘N’ word.  But the fact remains that although America has made a little progress, we are still haunted by the residue of slavery and racism.  While Paul’s comments may have touched upon a trace of the racist and slave master still lurking in the back of some of the readers hearts, I want to applaud him for his unbridled audacity and willingness to compare two systems that some folk may feel should not be compared.  For them, it’s like comparing apples to oranges.  Both are fruit, but no one ever confuses one with the other.  However, as poignant as his editorial may be, his words sting as they hit the target. Slavery was a dehumanizing system that took peoples freedom of choice from them and controlled their lives.  This nation’s educational system, for our poorest and neediest citizens, effectively and essentially does the same thing.  It relegates them to the permanent underclass with little or no hope of them obtaining their childhood dreams.
“For the African American, slavery was a debilitating system that offered no hope of being more than a slave.  Likewise, are so many of the schools that our poorest children attend.  Very few find success in this system; a system that is supposed to open the door of opportunity to all children.  Instead our current educational system helps usher more little black boys to prison and little black girls into a cycle of perpetual poverty than it sends to college or helps to achieve the American dream — a job with a livable wage.  According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute in 2002, the number of black men in prison has grown to five times the rate it was twenty years ago.   It is an alarming fact that today, more African-American men are in jail than in college.  In 2000, there were 791,600 black men in prison and 603,032 enrolled in college.

“Slaves were not allowed to learn how to read and write because their slave masters feared their potential if they learned to do so and if you could not read and write, your potential to be anything else but a slave was very low.  And so goes our system of public education where we are, year after year, graduating and ‘dropping out’ the functionally illiterate who are not competitive in the market place and whose earning potential is that of slave wages.

“I know Paul’s comparison to slavery was a hard pill to swallow. But I think many readers miss the fact that one of the pillars that was used for sustaining slavery was ‘the lack of an education.’  If one can open their mind and understand that fact, I think they can appreciate Paul’s editorial.”