A $57,000 Boys-Only Trip to the Movies in Dallas

by on December 29th, 2010
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COMMENTARY | The Dallas school district sent 5,700 fifth-grade boys on a field trip to see the movie “Red Tails” about the black Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, while girls stayed at school and watched the movie, “Akeelah and the Bee,” about a girl in a spelling bee, AP reports.

One of the airmen, Herb Carter, 94, was offended, saying, “This is the first time I’ve heard that (the movie) is unfit for female students.” After what he has lived through, Mr. Carter can be forgiven for thinking that the school board didn’t want girls, white or black, seeing black men in a heroic role in our armed forces.

The rest of the criticism is aimed at the slight to girls, not to blacks. Boys got a field trip to the movies; girls stayed in school, watching another movie. They may be more upset at the excuse given by the district: that “space was limited” in the theaters, and that boys would enjoy that movie more than girls would. The first could be handled by splitting up the showings into more days; the second is a stereotype about what boys and girls enjoy. It may apply generally; it certainly doesn’t apply to all.

The source of this offense was a federal grant. This field trip to the movies cost the Dallas school district $57,000, or $10 per child, in federal funds for low income students.

This field trip would not have happened without some sort of “free” money being dangled in front of the school board that could not be spent on regular schooling. Movie theaters were the chief beneficiaries of this federal largesse. There was plenty of room for girls in the theaters, but only so much “free” money from the feds.

When I went to school, we watched a lot of movies. We never went to a movie theater to watch one; we watched them in class. Boys and girls might have watched different movies at times, but only regarding sex education, not military history.

If the Dallas school district had really wanted all of its fifth-grade students to watch “Red Tails” and had to spend their local tax money on it, they would have bought a number of copies of the movie for a lot less than $57,000 and shown them in class, keeping the movie in stock to show every year to fifth-grade students, just like they did when I was in school.

But it seems that they had federal money that they felt they had to spend, and decided to give poor kids a one-time trip to the theater. The particular movie didn’t seem to matter much, since they showed a different one, which they had on hand, to girls. There apparently wasn’t enough “free” money to treat both the boys and the girls in the fifth grade to a field trip to the movies. It was more of a treat for poor students than others, so it could be said to benefit them in particular.

One problem with handing out government goodies is that if there aren’t enough goodies for everyone, those who are not favored are offended. But the purpose of government isn’t to do good; it is to do necessary evil. Being good to some and not others with tax money is unnecessarily evil.

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