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February 15 2017

Mary McLeod Bethune's School Choice

Charlotte Hays

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was an educator who pioneered private schools for African American girls in Daytona, Florida. Numerous schools are named for her, and she was truly a great lady in American history. Wikipedia has a good summary on the life of the woman muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell put number ten on her list of greatest American women.

William Mattox, director of the Marshall Center for Educational Options at the James Madison Institute, was in Dayton for a Black History Month dramatization of Mrs. Bethune's life. During the performance, he noticed that a person who helped Bethune had a "demographic profile eerily similar" to new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Prepare for incoming!

Mattox's piece in today's Wall Street Journal is headlined "A Gamble that Helped Black Students Thrive." The gamble is a play on the name of James N. Gamble, the Proctor & Gamble heir who, approached by Bethune for support, became a financial backer of her project to educate black children. The money helped: Bethune had previously used boxes and crates to make desks and cranberry juice to make ink.

Mattox writes:

During her performance last week, Ersula Odom re-enacted the story of how Bethune and her students huddled one night in their schoolhouse as an angry mob of Ku Klux Klan members assembled outside. Suddenly, the voice of one schoolgirl pierced the darkness, singing the comforting hymn “God Will Take Care of You.” When Bethune and the other students joined in the resounding chorus, the Klansmen realized that they were up against forces they dare not cross. Sheepishly, they turned and walked away.

I realize some people think Mrs. DeVos should be disqualified from public service because she supports giving students more opportunities, including the option of attending faith-based schools where such hymns are often sung today. But I see in Mrs. DeVos echoes of James N. Gamble—another Midwestern Protestant Republican with a family fortune from a cleaning-products company. Like Gamble, Mrs. DeVos has given generously to help disadvantaged kids receive a good education, and she has fully bought into a philosophy that places the needs of children ahead of the interests of the education establishment.

That’s something that should give pause to all of the new education secretary’s detractors—especially those who last Friday stood in a schoolhouse door to block Mrs. DeVos from entering.

I'm sure that Mattox's column has half progressive America rending their tunics.

Expect outrage and mockery where there should be cooperation in fostering the education of minority kids (and all American kids).

Anti-school choice progressives, you see, want to make a different gamble with the future of low-income kids.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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