School Choice

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Praises Charter Schools For Minorities

Calls them a bulwark against "soft expectations" from traditional education system that has failed blacks.


NBA great, author, and novelist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently talked with George Mason University's Tyler Cowen. Part of the conversation involved a discussion of how traditional K-12 schools continues to fail minorities despite ever-greater sums of money being spent per pupil.

The Q&A was part of "Conversations with Tyler," in which the libertarian economist interviews well-known folks such as money manager Cliff Asness, literary critic Camille Paglia, and stat-nerd Nate Silver. It's a phenomenal series and Cowen is one of the best interlocutors out there.

Abdul-Jabbar attended Catholic schools in New York City back when he was still known as Lew Alcindor. His high school was Power Memorial and the elementary school he attended has been transformed into a charter school (a publicly funded school that is free from many regulations of traditional public schools). He's good with that.

"Charter schools are an attempt to stem the flow of that dynamic and I hope that they get something done," Abdul-Jabbar said. He noted that the elementary school he attended in Manhattan, formerly a Catholic school, is now a charter school. "That seems to be the trend," he added.

Abdul-Jabbar is unstinting in his condemnation of "soft expectations" on minorities by schools.

"I don't think the soft expectations have benefitted minority communities very well, I think we still suffer from that," Abdul-Jabbar said Tuesday at an event hosted by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. "A lot of people seem to be able to accept it and understand it because they know how terrible our public school systems are, and how they have failed, in many cases, to educate the students in their districts. And I think that that failure has led to a lot of these problems and has given rise to a segregation of schooling, where you have private schools that are for wealthy white people and the public schools that have very poor teachers and very bad facilities that's for everyone else. We suffer because of that."

For Abdul-Jabbar, education is the key to upward mobility, especially among the poorest Americans.

"I don't know how we're going to work on the poverty situation unless, again, the educational system is up to speed," Abdul-Jabbar replied. "You can't escape poverty given that you can barely read and write, that's not going to work.

While saying that conventional welfare programs often championed by liberals are no solution to poverty, he also argued that conservatives come across as indifferent to the poor.

Read more here.

For more on "Conversations with Tyler" series, go here.

This week is National School Choice Week, and Reason will be highlighting the ways in which expanding K-12 educational opportunities for children and parents can make schools better and more innovative. And we'll be documenting various ways in which traditional school districts are imploding despite spending more and more money on a per-pupil basis.

From last fall, read Abdul-Jabbar's essay in Time about conservatives rejecting college-reading materials they find offensive. And check out his critique of police unions when it comes to mistreating suspects.

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  1. Well, Jabbar is one of today’s leading Libertarian thinkers. Just Google “anti gun control-Kareem” and read the multitude of articles that come up. There’s nothing wrong with making common cause with the guy on certain issues but, this issue aside, he’s a big government guy.

  2. While saying that conventional welfare programs often championed by liberals are no solution to poverty…

    But they are good for buying votes.

    …he also argued that conservatives come across as indifferent to the poor.

    They’re never getting those votes.

    1. You forgot to add .

      1. D’oh!

        I put “mic drop” inside of less than and greater than symbols.

        Apparently the server squirrels don’t like text that appears to be HTML (XML?).

  3. you have private schools that are for wealthy white people and the public schools that have very poor teachers and very bad facilities that’s for everyone else. ”

    So where do the children f wealthy blacks like yourself go Kareem ?

    Do they go where the the wealthy white kids go ? Of courese they do.

    It’s strictly a financial class issue intermingled with culture. Not race.

  4. “he also argued that conservatives come across as indifferent to the poor.”

    Is this one of those to-be-sure asides to reassure his audience that he isn’t one of those evil Uncle Tom racist right-wingers?

    Or does he actually believe that conservatives, as a class, care less than liberals as a class about the poor?

    1. I’m sure he believes that.

      I remember his earlier this year, blaming speech issues on campus on conservatives. (Reason had an article on that, too)

  5. “Roger, Roger.”

  6. Here’s what neither Kareem, nor any other liberal, nor any cosmotarian will ever have the balls to say: a kid can go to to a great school with the most dedicated and hard-working teachers, but if he doesn’t put down the basketball or video game controller once in a while, open up the books, read the material (multiple times), and do his homework assignments, it’s quite likely that he’s going to end up a loser. And this is probably more true today than it has ever been, in our Washington bureaucrat controlled economy where the “elites” are screwing over the blue collar working class in just about every way imaginable.

    Conversely, a kid in a bad public school in a bad neighborhood can still end up successful if he puts aside the stupid-ass ghetto “thug life” and works his behind off to learn. In the end, the child and his family are the ones who bear the primary responsibility for his education! Teachers can’t be the ones in every kid’s home beating them with a ruler all the time.

    1. Yarrr, the truth, she be a harsh mistress.

    2. The conclusion is the same: abolish government funding of education.

    3. Respectfully, that’s bullshit to some degree. There are innate intelligences that rise above the needs for rigorous study at any previous level before phd- and even that depends on the discipline.

      What we need us to not teach to the lowest ducking common denominator and left our talent rise to the top and educate them accordingly. Not everyone needs to be held back to the stupidity of homework and memorization drills.

      1. That’s true to a degree. But on the flip side, there is a certain level that you need to know how to study.

        I don’t think someone is just going to breeze through differential equations, even if it’s what, a junior level class.

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