The first book to transform school choice from an abstract policy issue into a question of basic personal freedom—and indeed, for minority children at the bottom of the social ladder, into a question of survival.
Sol Stern grew up in the South Bronx and attended New York City’s public schools in the 1940s and 1950s. He received the best education America’s urban public schools had to offer at that time—strong on classroom fundamentals and affirming a clear vision of America’s civic culture.
But that was then and this is now. In Breaking Free, Stern contrasts his own experience with that of his two sons, both of whom recently also attended some of New York’s best public schools. While spending time in his children’s schools he found something that should concern parents and all Americans—instruction filled with progressive education fads and politically correct clichés; dictatorial unions that protect bad teachers; and a sclerotic bureaucracy that puts the interests of employees ahead of the needs of students.
And if this is the bottom line at our best public schools, it is hard to imagine schools under stress in tough neighborhoods. A key moment in Stern’s quest to understand what went wrong comes when he investigates Catholic schools serving black and under-privileged children. He vividly describes how these cash-starved Catholic schools are performing small educational miracles every day with children the public schools have given up on. Moving on to Milwaukee and Cleveland, Stern finds that voucher programs there have rescued large numbers of poor minority children from violent, chaotic and failing public schools by allowing them to attend parochial and private schools where high expectations often result in high achievement.
Stern’s articles in City Journal and other publications describing what he saw in his educational odyssey were cited by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani when he came out in support of vouchers for poor children. Now, in this ground-breaking work, he shows us that school choice is the new civil rights movement for our time. Drawing on autobiography, critiques of current educational theory, and intimate conversations with parents, students and educators ranging from New York to the Midwest, Breaking Free transforms school choice from an abstract policy question into a compelling narrative about the real life educational needs of parents and children. Securing the right of all children to attend good schools, Sol Stern convinces us in this important work, is the nation’s unfinished business.