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.