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Trying to show that he can look beyond his usual line of supporters as he campaigns for the presidency, Mitt Romney stopped by the Universal Bluford Charter School in West Philadelphia this week. There he discussed education that he deemed the “civil rights issue of our time.” I suppose to a person who largely ignored the plight of women, gays, and immigrants and the strife they continue to deal with thanks to his party’s politics, such a declaration would ring true for him.

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In any event, the former Massachusetts governor told onlookers, “I come to learn, obviously, from people who are having experiences that are unique and instructive.” I’m not convinced that he learned anything given the manner in which he discussed ways in which the education gap in this country can be closed.

As Politico reports:

Romney’s discussion of a two-parent home wasn’t something he emphasized when he spoke on Wednesday in Washington D.C. about his education platform. But it was a common theme on Thursday during his roundtable discussion.

“For a single Mom living in a shelter with a couple of kids, those kids are at an enormous disadvantage. There is no question about that, relative to a home where a Mom and a Dad are able to be home for dinner,” Romney said when asked about closing the achievement gap for minority children.

He added, “Having two parents in a home makes an enormous difference. So if we’re thinking about the kids of tomorrow, trying to help move people to understand getting married and having families where there is a Mom and Dad together, has a big impact. And in my view that’s critical down the road.”

First, I suppose, I ought to acknowledge that him even thinking about the mythical single Mom in the shelter is a step up from past comments like, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” Yet, that sort of oversimplified description of the working poor is just as bad as the Politico summation of West Philly as “notorious for its gang and crime problems and rampant poverty.”

And as Lucretia Wilson, a retired prison teacher, told Buzzfeed:

“He is not in a middle class neighborhood right now, which I feel he’s probably totally unaware of. He’s in a neighborhood of working poor, people working hard every day and still can’t get by.”

Romney doesn’t understand what it is like to rely solely on public education to get ahead, which is why his emphasis on charter schools and two-parent households is problematic.

A two-parent household may be advocated as the ideal in raising a child, but two parents don’t make for better funded public schools with more resources, smaller class sizes, and a greater focus on critical thinking versus test taking.

In fact, Romney cited a survey stressing that smaller class sizes don’t really matter. Tell that to someone like me who can remember being stuffed in a tiny classroom with more than 30 students. As for this charter school argument, choice is one thing, but that’s a surface level solution to a systematic problem with education.

As a matter of fact, the very charter school in which Romney chose to have his roundtable discussion is on warning from the state of Pennsylvania because it hasn’t made academic progress in its first two years of existence.

To be fair, parents of students at the school have stressed the difference it’s made in their child’s life, but nevertheless charter schools are increasingly showing they suffer from many of the same problems as their public counterparts.

Mitt Romney clearly made this appearance for political reasons.

Judging from his comments, he didn’t come to learn so much as he did to show his face and make his misguided conservative talking points directly to the people who’d suffer from them most under his administration. If he genuinely wants to learn about a perspective unique to him, maybe he should try this again in the not too distant feature.

As Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) explained to protesters and the media outside:

“It’s nice that he decided this late in his [campaign] to see what a city like Philadelphia is about. I don’t know that a one-day experience in the heart of West Philadelphia is enough to get you ready to run the United States of America.

You want to have an urban experience? You want to have a West Philly experience? Then come out here and talk to somebody in West Philly.”

And don’t just talk (if there is a) next time, Mitt. Really listen.


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Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer and blogger. You can read more of his work on his site, The Cynical Ones. Follow him on Twitter: @youngsinick