Paul Greenberg

We're told that giving kids like these a chance to better themselves (and the rest of society, which is what well-educated people tend to do) constitutes "cherry-picking," clearly a grievous sin in times that elevate mediocrity.

But if encouraging the best or at least the most ambitious students is wrong, why not not eliminate all those Advanced Placement courses in public high schools rather than deprive regular classrooms of these kids' shining presence?

By Mr. Eddings' flickering lights, wouldn't AP courses be a form of, heaven forfend, "cherry-picking," too? Much like putting kids on separate academic tracks depending on their ability. Should we really hobble promising youngsters in the name of some deranged notion of democracy?

Of course no one serious about education would suggest such an unfair, destructive course. At least let's hope not. Because every student ought to be in a classroom that challenges the student, not holds him - or her - back. That's not democracy; it's an iron egalitarianism. It would be like putting weights on the shoes of our best high-school runners in the name of equality.

What we have here is a contemporary manifestation of the old spirit of leveling, which every democratic society since ancient Athens has recognized as the sure forerunner of tyranny. A good education, like a good society, ought to be about expanding horizons, not limiting them. It ought to be about providing more opportunities, not fewer - even for the most promising of our young. It ought to be about individual achievement, not collective mediocrity.

But all this really isn't about what's best for the next generation. It's not about education at all but about politics, power, money, and pride. That's why Little Rock's school district is fighting one of the best ideas to come along in American education since free public schools themselves.

Charter schools are designed to let teachers and principals work with kids free of the bureaucracy, apathy and lack of accountability that characterize our worst schools in this country.

Charter schools aren't just a promising experiment in themselves. They not only have to live up to the aims spelled out in their charter or shut down, but they also provide needed competition within the public school system. But certain school districts and their teachers' unions would rather hold on to unwilling students, and the state funds that go with them, rather than tolerate healthy competition.

Nothing so well illustrates the blind status-quo-ism that marks entirely too many American school systems as this vacuous talk about "cherry-picking" from a legal representative of a school district that is only too willing to do some cherry-picking itself (by offering AP courses) so long as it gets to maintain a monopoly over public funds.

Some of us have always been fond of cherries, and of quality in education, too. Both crops that should be encouraged, not plowed under. A good school system should be concerned about producing more good students, not limiting their choices.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.