Letters to the Editor: Week of August 14

Responses to school transfers Op-Ed

It is truly unfortunate that Professor J. Martin Rochester “became house-poor” in order to buy into the Clayton School District (Aug. 7 Op-Ed, “The school transfer controversy and the limits of tikkun olam”). This week’s parshah with a focus on tzedek or “justice” reminds us, the real injustice is a system that doesn’t allow all of our children to receive a quality education. Real justice will be the time when all children, regardless of their zip code, will have access to high quality education.

David Roberts, Clayton


Professor J. Martin Rochester should be commended for his honesty in his Aug. 7 commentary about the school transfer controversy, when he writes: “…many people (myself included) spent a small fortune and became house-poor years ago to buy into a high-quality district such as Clayton, only now to see free-riding parents gaining access to these schools without sacrificing a dime, with the prospect of declining property values to boot.”

While I agree that the school transfer policy is a mess and no one likes the idea of busing children long distances to other school districts, I find it difficult to correlate the values of tikkun olam with “small fortune,” “house poor,” “free-riding parents” and “declining property values.” 


This is how the invisible cloak of white privilege seeps into our world. Rochester was fortunate that he could spend, or borrow, that small fortune to buy a house in the Clayton district. Those “free-riding” parents in Normandy and Riverview Gardens, who are mostly black and low-income, did not have this advantage. And I submit that they have sacrificed much more than “a dime” in their efforts to secure a quality education for their children. Rochester is worried about declining property values. The parents in Normandy and Riverview Gardens are worried about the lives, the health, and the future of their children. 

Rochester questions “how far we should go in the name of social justice.” The response that I learned from studying Jewish ethics is: as far as we have to. 

In several weeks our Torah portion will bring us back again to the beginning chapters of Genesis, where God poses His first question to us: “Where are you?” Rashi says this is not a query for information (there are only two people in the world at this time, and the Creator of everything must know where they are). Instead, Rashi says this first question represents a call for dialogue and accountability. “Where are you?” doesn’t mean “Where are you standing?” It means “What do you stand for?”

The issue of how to provide a quality education for all of Missouri’s children requires both dialogue and accountability. There are many questions and, to date, few good answers. We must learn to be open, compassionate and respectful. My hope is that the conversation can be about education, rather than property values.

There is another question in Bereishit, the second question in Genesis. It’s asked by Cain, after he murders his brother and then attempts to cover it up. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he asks.

Our pursuit of tikkun olam would say that we have to answer that one: Yes. Even if they live in Normandy or Riverview Gardens, and even if they want to go to school with our children. They are our children, too.

Barbara L. Finch, University City