Spiderman Far From Home Shows the Diversity in School Choice


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps plugging along, releasing its 23rd installment, Spiderman: Far from Home, on July 2nd. 

Spiderman: Far from Home follows Peter Parker, aka Spiderman, struggling with the events of April’s Avengers: Endgame, and looking forward to a school trip to Europe where he can leave his Spidey-suit at home and just be a high school kid. Only once he gets to Europe, Peter’s trip is hijacked by Nick Fury, who drafts the young hero into a typical superhero mission alongside a new guy, Quentin Beck (Mysterio). The movie is well-executed, has great acting, clever twists, and it’s legitimately funny. It’s well worth $20 for a ticket and popcorn. 

One of the interesting things about Far from Home is that it has a really racially diverse cast, especially among Peter’s high school classmates. His best friend Ned is played by Jacob Batalon, who is of Filipino descent, and Spiderman’s love interest MJ is played by Zendaya, who is biracial. Peter must keep Brad, who’s half-asian, away from MJ, the spoiled “bully” Flash Thompson is Guatemalan, and one of their classmates wears a hijab. The only white people on the trip, at least as I can remember, are Peter, their clueless teacher, Mr. Harrington, and Ned’s girlfriend, Betty. 

There are going to be those who see this as Marvel pandering to social justice types. Others will point out that this diversity is accurate in a cosmopolitan city like New York, or that when you are smart as Spiderman and his friends, that is the product of natural talent and work ethic more so than privilege or circumstance. Natural talent and work ethic of course favor no ethnicity, hence why Spiderman’s elite friends are so ethnically diverse.

However, there’s a fourth explanation, a political message Marvel likely didn’t intend to make. Spiderman: Far from Home accurately displays the promise of school choice in making American education more racially equitable.

School choice is an idea first pioneered by Milton Friedman in the 1960s in which educational funding would be given to parents, not schools, and parents could choose to send their children to the school of their choice, whether public, private, or religious. Despite its roots in small government philosophy, it has had supporters on both sides of the aisle, and is supported by majorities of Democrats, Black Americans, and millenials.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Peter Parker goes to Midtown School of Science and Technology. While it isn’t outright said that Midtown High is a charter school, we do know that it is an elite school. That Midtown High is not a simple New York City public school seems to be a safe assumption. Also, the Parker’s are not wealthy (Spider-man builds his webbing in his school chemistry classroom), which means Parker is likely at Midtown High thanks to school choice.

One of the accusations often leveled at school choice is that it is a mask for bigotry or elitism. The charge is that privileged parents don’t want to send their children to public schools with less fortunate students, so they support a program that will essentially pay for private education, supplement that with a few thousand dollars in tuition other families can’t match, and you end up with an education system segregated by race and class.

The problem with this line of thinking is that the data suggests, as Far from Home shows, that school choice programs are great for making education more racially equitable.

For all the talk about charter schools being a trojan horse for segregation, they are actually more diverse than traditional public schools. A comprehensive 2013 Credo study found that out of the one million students in charter schools nationwide, 53% lived in poverty, 29% were Black, and 27% were Hispanic, compared to 48%, 16%, and 23% respectively in traditional public schools. 

The same study found charters schools also dramatically increased educational outcomes of non-white students. Black students in poverty saw an additional 36 days of learning in math at a charter school than traditional public schools, and about an additional 20 days for Hispanic students living in poverty. Those numbers were even higher for Hispanic students who were learning English, who gained an additional 50 days of learning in charter schools.

Take New Orleans, which after Hurricane Katrina scratched its failing public school system and adopted an entirely public-charter systemthe first in the nation. Before Katrina hit in 2005, just over 30% of Black students in the New Orleans school district scored basic or above on testing, almost 10% lower than Black students across the state and about 25% below all students statewide. By 2014, 59% of Black students in New Orleans scored basic or above, outperforming Black students statewide by five percentage points and just nine percentage points behind all students statewide. Whether the New Orleans model is replicable is questionable, but it is undeniable that the reforms have resulted in a dramatic shrinking of the racial gap in education.

Want to better integrate American schools so that our classrooms look more like Spiderman: Far from Home? Start by supporting school choice.

Dallas Kastens is a Sophomore political science major at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. His political interest is primarily in the Senate and Supreme Court, and outside of politics he enjoys running and reading.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Dallas Kastens

Asbury University

Dallas Kastens is a Sophomore political science major at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. His political interest is primarily in the Senate and Supreme Court, and outside of politics he enjoys running and reading.

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