Michigan Tea Party – Minority Students Are ‘Ethnically Challenged’


It seems that the Michigan branch of the Tea Party has realized that their past efforts at gaining support was a failure with anyone besides white males. Instead of learning from mistakes, one Tea Party member thought that he would try to garner support by being politically correct. The result – epic fail.

On January 15th the general public was invited to an event called Citizens Watchdog Training. For a mere $10 participants could hear so-called experts espouse their knowledge on how to expose wrong doings by elected officials. The sponsors of the event was none other than Americans For Prosperty, the Koch brothers super PAC.  Here’s a run down of some of the day’s sessions:

  • Voter fraud? What voter fraud? Updates on Voter Integrity in Michigan
  • Opposition Research: Fun ways to uncover the truth!
  • Saving Education: School choice issues.

While the first two sessions sound more intriguing, the last of the speakers on school choice tried something that is in the least, insensitive, and at the worst, racist. The last speaker for that session, Norm Hughes, thought he was politically correct when speaking on the makeup of students in charter schools. Here’s the transcript of that portion of his talk, recorded by Progress Michigan:

Kids aren’t going to charter schools if they’re “A” students. They go to charter schools because they’re failing students and, by and large, the charter schools have a higher percentage of poor families, ethnically challenged families

To the casual listener this might seem like he actually cares about these students. However, that’s not the case. First, calling minority students “ethnically challenged” is like saying since they aren’t ethnically European, their ethnic background makes them inferior. Where would he come up with such an idea? More than likely he did his own take on something conservative economist Milton Friedman said decades ago.

Our elementary and secondary educational system needs to be radically restructured. Such a reconstruction can be achieved only by privatizing a major segment of the educational system–i.e., by enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools. The most feasible way to bring about such a transfer from government to private enterprise is to enact in each state a voucher system that enables parents to choose freely the schools their children attend.

The fact is, Norm Hughes doesn’t care about the ethnic makeup of those students. Norm Hughes only wants to further erode public education in Michigan by pumping more public money into private for-profit charter schools. It’s also part of a larger goal to separate teachers from their unions. The following graphic by the conservative Mackinac Center Public Policy demonstrates this.

The problem is, while some charter schools outperform their public school counterparts, others actually are worse. While some studies overall may show gains for charter schools, the schools that do poorly are generally those who do poorly when they are in public schools. They suffer from many of the same problems, one of them being high teacher turnover. Since a small percent in Michigan are unionized, meaning fewer benefits, they are less likely to stay. So while advocates for charter schools are pushing for more schools, they have yet to solve the very same problems that low performing public school schools do. The truth is, discouraging the forming of unions due to at-will employment is not going to help with continuity. Any savings that organizations might gain from lower wages and benefits are offset and even lost due to the high costs of turnover.

So the question is, what makes this Norm Hughes such an expert on charter schools, or even education? The simple answer – nothing. The fact is Mr. Hughes is an architect by trade. He’s also very interested and involved in politics. His involvement includes being Michigan’s executive director for Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful 1976 presidential campaign. In fact, his work with the campaign gave him several high level positions in Reagan’s administration including Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy, and as the Senior Policy Advisor and Associate Director designate for Emergency Operations at FEMA. But no experience in education. Since that time, he’s switched his politicking with the Tea Party. Currently he’s a member of the North Oakland Tea Party Patriots. It seems that his work has paid off in the form of cronyism. He worked hard for the party, and he gets a chance to talk in front of an audience.

Sadly, this event presented no real information on education. It was an event to showcase right wing activists being featured as expert speakers on topics they do not really understand. They are put in those positions not because of their expertise on the topic, but instead their ability to indoctrinate the listener. In the case of Mr. Hughes, his attempt at sounding intelligent only resulted in him showing his true agenda – using poor, minority inner city students to push forward right wing propaganda. The agenda is to squeeze as much money from public coffers, away from public schools and teachers unions, and into the pockets of charter school profiteers. Sorry, Mr. Hughes. You not only failed this course, but it was an epic fail.


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