Saturday, 31 July 2010

The Way to Go

Here are two alternatives to Galloping David Dukism: one from outside the black community; one from with. (From within is by definition better than from without, because in a democracy individual and group autonomy ought to prevail, but given the fix—and fixation—we’re in, we thank the forces for Goodness for whatever favors we can get.)

Adopting a black elementary school class has become a highly esteemed act of charity. The media coverages makes the givers blush humbly; and the astonished receivers are so pleased their smiles are a classroom wide. Not to give a gift horse in the mouth, but I have two caveats before we confuse ourselves in vicarious self-congratulations: such ad hoc charity is no substitute for a fair and equitable tax system, and it’s no substitute for exploitative relations at the workplace, in effect a PR sop self-administered for what could be guilt.

I don’t intend to imply that the current instance is so guilty; it’s just that I have observed that some of our biggest philanthropists have patently been some of our crummiest employers. Those cavils aside, there should be nothing but joy in our divided country for out and out self-help and subsidized self-help.

Because when Bucks County luxury home and condo builder Robert I. Toll and his wife Jane told the third graders at Philadelphia’s Harrity Elementary School (Inquirer, 10/10/90, p. 1, cols. 1,2,+10A) they would pick up their college tuition, they coupled it with a tough proviso: they’d have to finish high school. When you learn that three out of every four of the school’s 450 students are the children of welfare recipients, you know those kids have got their charity cut out for them.

And the Tolls want their mitzvah to go on spreading like a benign tsunami of giving across history: “We are helping you so we can get what we want most out of this program. I want you to come back her 30 or 40 years from now and do what I am doing today . . . that would be the greatest reward for me and Jane.” The Tolls, who have five children of their own, for two years mulled over their decision to join the U of Penn directed SAY YES TO EDUCATION program begun by George and Diane Weiss of Hartford, Conn. three years ago when they agreed to support 112 students from the Belmont School.

The Tolls, who are graduates of Penn, live in Solebury, Bucks. “If we don’t help the children in our cities, we aren’t going to have cities soon. If we permit our cities to be destroyed, then we are really destroying ourselves.” Toll, 49 (History/Cornell, Law/Penn), practised law less than a year before joining with his brother in 1968 to build a Chester County subdivision called Inglewood. Mrs. Toll, 48, taught for many years in public elementary schools and in private schools for emotionally disturbed adolescents. She spent several days visiting schools to find “the right school and principal.” I imagine this could be divisive in a school and it’s up to the principal to establish a cooperative effort.”

Mrs. Toll plans to devote one day a week to the third graders. (She has her own construction company, Swan Development Corp.) Principal Nancy Donahue pinpoints a problem with such highly targeted charity: “There’s going to be an element of jealously. . . . People will want to know whey their child wasn’t picked. It’s unfortunate that all the children can’t be picked, but we should be happy for those that are.” Need I point out that in a country as wealthy as ours, it is only the unconscionable maldistribution of wealth and an unfair taxing system that keeps us from having publicly supported access to tertiary education.

(Actually, our whole city and country would be in less of a mess if the minority—and majority—students were using their current access to junior and senior high less wastefully than they are; we must guard against the college degree fallacy—some of the Americans I most admire, from I. F. Stone on the left to William Safire on the right, never finished college. It’s character and applied intelligence we need more of, not phony baloney degrees.)

I have many fewer problems with black Chicago idealist Gil Walker. (See George F. Will, “On the ball court after midnight, learning the rules of more than one game,” Inquirer, 10/10.90, p. 18A.) The forty-one-year-old Walker works for the Chicago Housing Authority where he has very good reason to know what empty hands and heads in the projects are wont to do. (Eighty percent of the sixteen ten-man teams he has fashioned into the Midnight Basketball League for $90,000—about what it cost to jail three men for a year—come from those notorious Chicago projects large enough to be Illinois’ second-largest city. There are a hundred gangs in Chicago with an estimated thirty thousand members.)

What qualifies an eighteen- to twenty-five year old for the MBL? You have to attend practices once a week and be what Walker calls a “successful individual,” which he defines as “anyone taking care of a family.” After each game the players get a dose of Gospel according to Gil. This sock-it-to-them Socrates teases a definition of “manhood” out of his players.

Gil: “How many babies you got?”

MBLer: “Four.”

Gil: “How many are you taking care of? Tell me their teachers’ names. You don’t know? What kind of man are you?”

It would seem, a bigger and better one when they’ve absorbed Walker’s moral coaching, which might include how to look for a job, how to get along with co-workers, how to deal with a boss who “is on your case.”

Multiply the Tolls and the Walkers by the thousands and we might make it as a country. And David Duke wouldn’t stand a chance. Incidentally, I’m looking eagerly for the first Maecenas to give an equally Fair Deal to an elementary classroom in a poor white Appalachian town. Duke is thriving on the perceived threat that increasingly poor whites feel about the Land of Opportunity shrinking to a pitiable Wasteland of Opportunism, where golden parachuting rich abandon the poor. As things are, they have a right to be pissed, and to have a spokesman in David Duke.

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