It’s been interesting to see some of the vitriol directed at me online as a result of this editorial. What’s interesting, besides the name calling (I’m fat? Who knew?), is the lack of context given on social media, causing liberal critics to explode.

Let’s start with the facts.

I wrote about a school I attended, Milwaukee Vincent High School, when I was a Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) student. I mentioned that I graduated years ago when the high school still had that new school smell (and some other odors) and that I recently received an invitation to a reunion I could not attend.

Among the things the Vincent High School alumni website mentioned was the school getting a new athletics stadium for $5.7 million.

Now, unlike a lot of other MPS graduates, I have actually paid attention to what has happened to my high school since I left. In fact, it’s largely the result of my experience in MPS and what has happened since I graduated that I have remained concerned about education. I have written about school choice and alternative education since I was a blogger, and then as a columnist for the Waukesha Freeman, then as an education reporter for Watchdog.org, and now as editor of RightWisconsin.

Here’s the bad news about my old school: it’s failing. It’s failing big time. It wasn’t a great school when I graduated (as I described in the editorial) and now it’s worse. There are 999 students trapped in that failing school, according to the Department of Public Instruction. Instead of doing something about it, MPS is building them a new stadium for sports. Instead of getting the kids out of that failing school, or doing something to improve the schools, MPS is putting in artificial turf.

As I wrote in the editorial in a line not being re-posted on Twitter, “At least the artificial turf matches the artificial concern of Wisconsin’s Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers, for the well-being of MPS students.”

But what has them really upset is that I wrote:

“The new stadium is part of an $11 million improvement in athletic facilities for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), presumably so the little convicts can have the best facilities before being sent to the penitentiary.”

The line, with the link to a Fox 6 story that my critics neglect to mention, is clearly referring to the Deontay Long case. Long, for those of you that have forgotten, was a Milwaukee Washington basketball star convicted of armed robbery – a felony – but was still allowed to play by MPS in the state basketball tournament while he awaited sentencing. It’s a clear example of MPS’ screwed up priorities that they still haven’t addressed.

If MPS and my critics are upset with me for referencing that as an example of the screwed-up priorities of the school district, they need to be upset with every other media outlet that bothered to report the story, too.

I obviously did not intend the line to reference all students in MPS. I explained earlier in the editorial how I was an MPS graduate and I included the link to the story about Deontay Long. If I intended to “smear” (as a Journal Sentinel reporter wrote without ever contacting me) all MPS students, I wouldn’t have included the link, nor would I have mentioned my own educational background.

What’s been most disappointing about the reaction to my editorial is how my critics, willing to seize on a fake “gotcha” moment for their purposes, are willing to ignore the fact that nearly 25,000 students are trapped in failing MPS schools. When are they going to show real concern for those students, as I have for the last 18 years of writing about public policy, instead of just drumming up fake outrage to try to silence any voice that calls for real educational reform in Milwaukee?

The tragedy here is that this shouldn’t be about me. It’s the MPS to prison pipeline that won’t be rectified by building new football stadiums. As an MPS graduate I find the embrace of the status quo disgusting. The soft bigotry of low expectations is more vile and more insidious than anything my critics have accused me of being.

Real students, mostly minorities, are being held captive in failing schools, including Milwaukee Vincent. Instead of prettifying the Potemkin buildings, we need to do more to improve the lives of the students in those schools. I stand by what I wrote: the African American, Hispanic and other minority children of MPS would be better off if failing schools were shut down rather than upgrading the athletic facilities.

 

James Wigderson
Editor
RightWisconsin