The Not So Good Book - By Emiliano Antunez -Price of Liberty
The Not So Good Book
By Emiliano Antunez

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July 03, 2006

The cacophony at the Miami-Dade Public Schools hearing in mid June could be heard all the way across the Florida Straights. At the center of the political storm was a picture book intended for seven to nine year olds called “A Visit to Cuba” (Vamos A Cuba), in which life in Cuba is depicted as similar to life in the United States. As expected, many in Miami’s Cuban expatriate community where appalled at such a suggestion and asked the school board to ban the book from the school systems libraries. Faster than you can say Huckleberry Finn, the ACLU threatened to sue the school system if the book was banned. The board voted six to three to ban the book, while everyone was oblivious to the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

Cubans who either were forced to leave Cuba by the Castro government or left in order to escape execution, persecution, prostitution or destitution have every right to feel indignant about the book's rosy content. The ACLU is also within its right over its concerns about the banning of books. So if both sides are right (or at least within their rights) who or what is wrong? The root cause of this entire problem, which on the surface appeared to be caused by a simple book, is in reality the existence of government (i.e. public) schools.

Within Miami-Dade County there are parents who are opposed to the book (A Visit To Cuba) being made available to students, there are also parents who favor the book remaining on the shelves and parents who are yet not aware that the book exist. The one thing all parents (and residents in general) in Miami-Dade have in common is that they are forced directly or indirectly to pay for government schools. There is no choice in the matter; you either pay your property tax or lose your property (renters pay indirectly through higher rents). Everyone at the school board, from the superintendent to the janitor, is aware of this. That is why public education is dismal and expensive (12K per year per student in Miami-Dade) when compared with most private institutions. Whenever parents voice a concern regarding their child’s government school, their complaint usually falls on deaf ears. In reality, they have no choice or say in their child’s government education unless, of course, their complaint is politically (not educationally) charged, and can be exploited for political brownie points.

The Miami-Dade School Board is politically (and ethnically) divided into nine districts. Five Districts are represented by Hispanic (Cuban/American) politicians, two by Black politicians and two by Jewish politicians. Due to the ethnic make up of the board and constituents, the arguments sounded like this: “What if it were a book sanitizing life in Nazi Germany” or “What if South Africa during apartheid had been presented in a similar light?” “If Fidel Castro released flatulence in the woods and nobody smelled it would he still be a communist?” All those are valid points and question that can be pondered upon eternally, but still do not address the previously mentioned mammoth ape. As expected all the politicians voted in a fashion that best suited their chances for reelection.

This issue of “the book” has actually been festering for months and not once (from either side) has an argument questioning the system itself been heard. Everyone on either side has accepted that only the government can provide for adequate universal education. This is rather amazing, since many Cubans living in Miami experienced the horrors of government schooling (aka indoctrination), and banning of books with “unacceptable” language or ideas first hand on the communist island. The ACLU also has some “'splaying” to do, as to how they constantly rage against the state on a myriad of 1st amendment abuses by the government, yet they can trust that very same government with the education (or lack) of our children?

The School Board's reasoning for the ban was that the book “A Visit to Cuba” was inaccurate and left out a lot of aspects about life in communist Cuba. They probably have a very good point, but that very same argument can be made about many books including those covering US History on the shelves of their libraries. Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, agrees with the school board's decision to remove A Visit to Cuba. He says he takes issue with "a book that presents life in Castro's Cuba as something similar to life in the United States." Well there are some similarities such as sub-par “free public education”, compulsory school attendance and, in some school districts within the US, uniforms are required (though maybe not as stylish and colorful as the Cuban “pionero” (communist youth) get up).

The only solution to this (and many other) problems facing our public school system is to kill the system (monster) itself. Many will argue that only the state can ensure universal education, but is this really true? Public schools through their compulsory tax revenues have actually served to increase the cost of both public and private education. If parents could keep their money (not get a voucher) and choose how and where to spend it, this would bring about competition (Economics 101) that would naturally serve to bring down the price of schooling, and probably improve its quality. It would also go a long way in getting rid of the politicized infighting.

What about those who couldn’t afford to pay for their children’s education? The creation of competition in the education marketplace, would serve to lower the price of education, putting it within reach of most folks. Extremely poor parents could also have their children attend by way of scholarships and private contributions. There are also a minute minority of adolescents (with the complicity of their parents) who do not wish to go to school, what about them? If they and their parents don’t think an education is important, who needs a disruptive and sometimes violent presence in the classroom anyway? Who knows, this could also heighten the sense of parental responsibility in some people and slow down the birth rate (wishful thinking?).

The battle over the book has already moved into the courts and one thing is certain; it will cost Miami-Dade taxpayers hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of dollars, thanks mostly to myopic thinking on all sides. Besides, who ever said schooling was the equivalent of education? Mark Twain said "I have never let my schooling get in the way of my education."


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