Charter Schools: The White Man’s Panacea for Education
By: Solomon Comissiong
The illusion that white liberals and conservatives seldom find common ground is farcical. It is a deceptively dangerous illusion that far too many believe in. It is important to understand that the perceived chasm that separates white people politically is, in all actuality, very small in regards to a number of social issues. When you can clearly indentify your foes as well as your friends, it makes all ensuing battles that much easier. Most white liberals(noticeably different from a truly progressive oriented white person), as with white conservatives, have very little intention to progressively work towards eradicating the root causes of social issues that plague most black communities in America. It is extremely important for people of color to understand this very important fact—white liberals will never seek on their own to destroy institutional racism and white supremacy. It should be obvious that white conservatives will not as well, but then again they never claim to give a damn about black people. They are what they are, whether you like it or not.
White liberals, on the other hand, love to profess how liberal they are on “civil rights” issues, but when it comes to taking an aggressive approach towards things like institutional racism, or even the military industrial complex, they are silent. And as the Bard has written, “Silence speaks consent.” If they were surgeons their solution to fixing a six inch gash in your arm would be to give you a band-aid rather than disinfecting the wound, dressing it, and sufficiently wrapping it. So when it comes to “complex” issues that black and brown youth face, failing schools for instance, their approach is to provide a little patchwork here and a little patchwork there. Their approach is never to admit that if these schools were white they would never be allowed to fail in such a manner as many schools of color are failing, largely based on the fact that they are under-supported and socially neglected. Neither liberals nor conservatives would not suggest some of the same “remedies”, to predominately white schools, that they often recommend to black and brown schools. And yes, with the re-segregation of today’s school systems, which are much like those of the 1960s, in terms of racial makeup, we can refer to them as black, brown or white. As a matter of fact, it is very important that we do this since a great many black and brown schools do not even receive half of the governmental support and funding as do many of their white counterparts.
Jonathan Kozol, author of The Shame of a Nation and Savage Inequalities (and a relatively progressive white man), has spent much of his career outlining the institutionally racist nature of America’s failing public school system within both books. Failing to delineate the racial makeup of these predominately black and brown schools, which are systemically neglected by the US government, only confuses the issues. Failing to identify the racial disparities prevents us from properly identifying the racist and white supremacist roots in these problems. And just like failing to identify the root causes of any physical malady will prevent a physician from properly diagnosing the sickness of a patient and therefore subsequently leading toward a recovery, so too is the case for most social issues. The institutionally unequal disparities between black schools and white schools are logically no different.
On March 19, 2010 I witnessed an “interesting” debate surrounding education and charter schools on the vastly mainstream oriented MSNBC morning program, “Morning Joe”. The last 20 minutes of the program featured New York State Senator Bill Perkins ((D) 30th Senate District). Bill Perkins, jurisdiction (within Harlem) is predominately black, as is he. He was engaged in a charter school debate with the conservative blow hard host of the show, former republican congressman Joe Scarborough. Perkins was arguing to the point that Charter Schools (which are mostly publicly funded but privately run) were not the answer towards adequately improving educational standards within Harlem, as well as in the rest America’s communities of color. The always smug and overtly disingenuous Scarborough continually claimed that charter schools were the best answer for black communities to get the education they deserve (we can only imagine what the means). He tried to back up his claims up by selectively picking pieces out of a recent Stanford study on the effectiveness of charter schools. When Perkins pointed out that the same Stanford study contradicted his (Scarborough’s) assertion that charter schools were the panacea to solving the education problem, Scarborough rudely spoke over him. The Stanford study clearly stated charter schools, in general, do not out perform public schools. Almost half of all charter school kids perform at the same level as children enrolled in public schools. And close to 40 percent (37 percent) do worse than public school kids. These are important facts that Joe Scarborough conveniently omitted from his on-air baseless diatribe. Scarborough then, in a clear act of desperation, started to reference people like John Legend and Al Sharpton as individuals who thought that charter schools were a good idea. This was a feeble and asinine way of trying to prove his point. When did they become experts on public education? That crap may work on legions of corporate media’s most faithful viewers but not on the author. I am no fan of corporate “news’ nor am I a fan of programs like “Morning Joe”. Using the playground debate tactics that Scarborough employed he might as well have arbitrarily thrown a couple more random black luminaries to prove his specious argument.
Al Sharpton has clearly shown his willingness to climb into bed with the likes of Arne Duncan (Secretary of Education) and Newt Gingrich (former rightwing congressman) in order to curry favor with Obama and his misguided charter school agenda. One can only imagine what deals were struck behind closed doors to bring that motley crew together. The New York state senator (Perkins) made the most profound statement on “Morning Joe” when he alluded to the fact that white people, in general, are not willing to prescribe charter schools to their own children in their own communities. This was a statement to which Joe Scarborough had no clear rebuttal. He had no significant response because it all boils down to the fact that Joe Scarborough could not give a damn about black youth in America’s socially neglected communities. He could not give a damn about the very real and predatory “school to prison pipeline” strategically set up in many predominately black and brown schools. Scarborough could give a damn about black boys that are routinely (and unjustly) profiled and harassed by the police. And he certain could not give a damn about the prison industrial complex which is destroying black families and communities! All of the aforementioned are irrefutably institutionally racist and have direct and indirect impacts on schools in black and brown communities. He (Scarborough) pushes charter schools for the same reason Arne Duncan (who was appointed by Barak Obama) does; they represent the privatization of public schools as we know it. This is where the neoliberal agenda romantically converges with the neoconservative agenda regarding education. While serving as the CEO of Chicago’s public school system Arne Duncan made a name for himself by turning over the control of predominately black and brown public schools to the military. This is certainly a move he would never try with predominately white schools. Rather than to recruit the expert, experienced pedagogues of our country he fell into the historical trend of bringing on more “muscle” to control blacks and browns…not unlike the managers of slave plantations of yore. His blueprint is to control by dispassionate force rather than to inspire by skilled, empathetic pedagogy.
Endorsing charter schools is the easy way out instead of putting the money and requisite resources into revamping, rebuilding, and adequately funding public education in this country. Privatizing American schools and excluding the masses of black and brown children is simply another way of keeping the institutionally racist status quo in tact. The measures of adequately funding schools are only viable in white “well to do” communities where property taxes and capitalist values play a major role in public school funding, never mind that property tax financing of schools is one of the great injustices hovering over this topic of public education. If this country had even an once of equity, when it came to all children, it would make sure that all public schools, regardless of where they were located, would get equal funding and support. However, since America is firmly situated on a foundation of capitalism, social injustice and racism; the U.S. will continue to place superficial “band-aids” on the deep wounds of an institutionally racist public educational system that plagues black and brown communities.
The dreams of Brown v. Board of Education are just that, dreams. Separate and unequal still rule the day within America’s failing public school system. Failed policies such as No Child Left Behind and unqualified government officials (Arne Duncan who has never spent a minute as a classroom teacher) are continually given the reigns to decide the future of millions of youth of color. Even Diane Ravitch, a former George HW Bush Assistant Secretary of Education, explicitly states the failings of NCLB and the myths of charter schools in her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. She has hand an epiphany late in life, but an epiphany nonetheless. Public schools in America need to be approached in a radically different manner that involves more emphasis placed into critical thought as well as comprehension, and not just regurgitation of material that is forced down students’ throats in order to pass statewide standardized tests. An educational system that espouses memorization without comprehension and rote learning without critical thinking only produces robots that will continue to accept whatever it placed before them rather than to question, consider and decide for themselves. But perhaps that is the intent of millennium public education. Robotic thinkers will not challenge and actively resist that same system that makes them robotic in the first place. The curriculum in public schools needs to be revamped and made more culturally relevant, especially in communities of color but likewise among their white counterparts lest millennium white students continue being culturally disadvantaged. And yes, more money needs to be placed into these schools. Its funny that liberal and conservative white politicians will claim that you cannot simply throw money into education and expect it to magically pay off, however when it comes to placing their children in expensive private schools or well funded public schools they have no issue with that. These disingenuous cretins systemically throw trillions of dollars into military aggression that ultimately kills people, however when it comes to investing in the lives of millions of youth, they can’t seem to find any good reason to do so. And now they have a brown skinned man in the White House willing to do their bidding. Obama’s commitment, like his dim witted predecessor (Bush), is to his military expenditure, Wall Street and his corporate handlers. Unfortunately far too many of us cannot see through the façade. The Change You Can Believe In campaign has quickly become The Beliefs You Can Change administration.
Solomon Comissiong is an educator, community activist, author, public speaker and the host of the Your World News radio program (www.blogtalkradio.com/Your-World-News). He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org