DISD's Confederacy of Jerks

Extremely pushy parents—Latino, black and Anglo—must rise up to save DISD from itself

If Obama can be president, is it OK for white people to be assholes again?

And, of course, I don't mean it exactly the way it sounds. I'm worried about the Dallas school system. What I really mean is that it may be time for upwardly mobile middle-class and working-class people of all ethnicities in the city to step forward and fight the good fight for old-fashioned academic elitism again.

You know what I mean by elitism—courses like calculus. That old, snobby numbers game. Or Latin, the language of empire. How about literacy—by which I mean people who do read, as opposed to people who can.

Have we come far enough for restlessly ambitious parents to begin demanding excellence in the schools again and suffer whatever slings and arrows may come their way as a result?

I would hope that black parents will be assholes as well. And Latino parents. I would include Asian parents, but we all know that's not going to happen.

Obnoxious, pushy, child-worshipping, sidelines-screaming, over-competitive, wildly insecure but arrogant parents with rat-like determination to get what they want for their kids: How do we get those people back involved in an urban school district, as opposed to the goofy morons and bandits running the place into the grave today?

We can't afford to let the suburbs have all the pushy jerks. We need to lure some of them back. Otherwise, too few people will ever give a damn.

Let me make the first part of my case here with a simple number—627. That is the number of votes that swept Dallas school trustee Adam Medrano into office last May 10 in the district's only contested school board race. Medrano trounced his sole challenger, Pedro Alvarez, with 627 votes to Alvarez's 178.

Think about it. My son went to Woodrow Wilson High School. The published student population at Woodrow is 1,470. If every student at Woodrow voted, Medrano's tally wouldn't have been enough to get him elected prom queen. So instead he's a trustee over the whole district.

Please don't take this as a slur aimed at Medrano. At least he cares enough to go down there and give a big slice of his life to public service at school headquarters. It's not his fault the rest of us are such slouches.

I argued in a column last week (so I won't argue again) that the absence of parents and other citizens from the political process in the school district leaves DISD in the hands of two interest groups: 1) district staff, and 2) construction industry companies involved in school bond building campaigns.

Those two groups, the staff and the builders, have a right to be heard. But no decent pushy parent should be willing to leave the fate of his or her child in the hands of a coalition of bureaucrats and builders. Are you kidding? Better to send the kid down to the bus station with a few bucks for lunch and a comic book.

But don't do that. I have a better idea.

We do live in a democracy, after all. There is no reason why parents couldn't have an impact on school board elections and in that way exert a powerful influence on the schools. I wrote last week about Texas Parent PAC, a political action committee that has enjoyed remarkable success in state legislative races since its founding in 2005.

The non-partisan Parent PAC raises money which it puts into targeted legislative contests, endorsing and supporting Republican and Democratic candidates who support good schools. In several tightly contested races, up against opponents with huge financial support from the anti-public education ideologues, Parent PAC candidates have prevailed.

So why couldn't we do that here in school board races? Last week I spoke with Carolyn Boyle, founder and chair of Parent PAC, who explained to me that her group doesn't have the resources at this point to get involved in local school board races.

"But I do think we are modeling for people that parents can really get involved and create political action committees, and that should happen, really, at school board levels."

But somebody has to do it.

"The problem is, it takes someone stepping forward," Boyle said. "With Texas Parent PAC, that was me."

She thinks women are better candidates than men for this sort of thing. "People have commented to me that really the only people who could have done what Parent PAC has done were a bunch of PTA moms, because men would be too scared that it would flop, and they would lose face."

I concede there is no more implacable force in nature than mothers, but I do think fathers could serve at least in a subordinate role.

So why doesn't it happen here? I know from my own family's experience in the Dallas schools that there are pockets of parents clustered around a few favored schools who will make almost any sacrifice in time and effort for the sake of those schools. Why haven't those long-lost cadres of committed parents stepped forward from the gloom, especially at a time like this, to do something powerful and effective like form a political action committee to clean up DISD?

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