The Paris of the West and the Vast Wasteland That Remains
Michigan has been in the headlines recently with right-to work legislation and an omnibus abortion bill. What didn’t cause much stir is Michigan’s 2011 eighth grade education report card. The state as a whole is able to claim to be on par with the nation in reading, with 32 percent of eighth graders rating as “proficient” or better; in math, 31 percent of students ranked as “proficient” or better. Compared with national averages of 32 and 34 percent of eighth graders at or above grade-level in reading and math, respectively, Michigan’s public education system appears to be as mediocre as every other state. What the statewide numbers don’t show, however, is the complete failure of the Detroit Public Schools.
Decades ago Detroit, called the “Paris of the West,” was the fourth largest city in the nation with a large and thriving middle class. When Henry Ford perfected the assembly line, he was able to bring down the production costs of automobile manufacturing, which in turn made ownership possible to a much larger portion of Americans. With increased sales, Ford needed more workers to produce more vehicles. To attract those employees, he offered $5 a day wages and a shorter work day. The work was monotonous, but the wages were nearly twice what any other auto manufacturer offered. Hopeful workers flocked to Detroit for jobs. Their employment created a large and prosperous middle class. The city’s population peaked around two million in the mid-1950s. By the time the 2010 census rolled around, only 706,585 residents remained.
The roots of decline in Detroit can be traced back to two events: the rise of the auto union (1936 – 1950), which put increasing demands on manufacturers for higher wages and benefits, leading to higher production costs, higher resale prices and lower profits; and, the 1961 election of Democrat Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, whose expansion of the role of government was unprecedented. With the help of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Cavanagh launched the Model Cities Project, pumping 400 million government dollars into a nine square mile radius of the city. The idea was to make it the model of great American cities. Instead, Detroit was left with decrepit, abandoned houses and vacant lots. The average price of a home in Detroit today is $5,700. And those vacant lots have come in handy for residents to plant urban farms to feed themselves since there are no longer any large scale supermarket chains operating in the city.
The money poured into Detroit came with strings attached. Because the government provided funding, the government decided who could build, where they could build, which businesses could stay open and which businesses must close. Residents had to pay higher taxes to fund the government regulation, but were promised more training and education in return. However, the taxes and regulations were so burdensome, businesses and people began to exodus the city en masse. This led to decreased government revenue. For over 50 years now, the Democrat’s answer has been to raise taxes and create government programs to fix the city’s decline. The net result was that anyone who could afford to flee the city did so, leaving the city with mostly impoverished residents, no work and very little education.
Although Detroit Public schools spend $15,884 per student, the report card the city received showed no return on the investment. In reading, only seven percent of eighth grade students are “proficient.” The numbers in math are even worse, with only four percent of Detroit’s eighth grade students measuring as “proficient.” This has been devastating to the black community, which makes up 88.1 percent of the population.
In 2003, philanthropist Robert Thompson pledged $200 million for the creation of 15 charter high schools in the city in an effort to rescue students languishing in Detroit’s public schools. The goal was to give parents and children more education options. But the offer was withdrawn after the Detroit Federation of Teachers staged angry protests, claiming the schools would syphon millions of dollars from the public schools. The union successfully killed one of the only opportunities to come along for students. In withdrawing the money, Thompson said, “The proposal was meant to be for kids and not against anyone or any institution.” And yet, the teacher’s union made sure it was all about the teacher’s union and not the students.
Today, the state has wrested control of Detroit away from the city in an effort to improve conditions, but only time will tell if the bleeding can be stopped, if this once great city can avoid going over the brink. With the myriad problems Detroit has, it may be too little, too late. After all, the city has lost 450,000 manufacturing jobs and 237,493 residents in the last ten years alone, all while facing a $327 million public schools budget deficit. Add to that the dubious title of “murder capital of the United States,” an unemployment rate of 10.8 percent, a 19 percent high school dropout rate, and only 9.2 percent of the population consisting of two parent households, the outlook is bleak indeed.
The aura of Detroit is hopelessness and despair. Wrack and ruin are the order of the day. Filth, crime, drug abuse, illiteracy, ignorance, illegitimacy and poverty are rulers over the kingdom. Is this what America wants for its future? In November, it would seem we answered “yes” when we re-elected Barack Obama as President. The policies that destroyed Detroit are the same policies the modern Progressive party pushes today. Who cries for Detroit? Who will cry for America?
- Detroit: A Failed Experiment in Socialism (thebrennerbrief.com)
- Only 7% of Detroit Public-School 8th Graders Proficient in Reading (redalertpolitics.com)
- Only 7% Of Michigan 8th Graders Taught By Union Teachers Are Proficient In Reading (patdollard.com)
- Only 7% of Detroit Public-School 8th Graders Proficient in Reading (cnsnews.com)
- Only 7% of Detroit Public-School 8th Graders Proficient in Reading (educationviews.org)