Stop Berating Black and Brown Parents Over Charters (and Give Your Twitter Fingers a Rest)

Cesar_Chavez_Public_Charter_School_-_Bruce_Campus_DC.JPG

I read too many edu arguments for my own good. It’s a known issue in my household.

The argument I find most cringe-inducing is the fight over charter schools. With the news that Secretary DeVos is coming to Seattle, I’d like to put this out there for folks.

If there's one lesson that I have learned over the last few years, it’s that you're never going to convince a black or brown mother to change her mind about where to send her child by demonizing her choices, calling her a “neo-liberal,” or labeling her a “tool of privatizers.” And since black and brown parents are the primary target of most charter operators, this presents a conundrum I want to help my (mainly white) progressive friends work through.

Before I go further, a few caveats: I’ve worked in public schools since 2006. This is by choice. I have been offered roles in teaching, as a principal, and on the board of charter operators in my state. I have declined. I consider myself a “charter agnostic.” I believe the traditional public school is the right venue for the kind of work I want to do and the student population I desire to work with. But, I don’t begrudge the choices others make for their own children.

Now that my cards are on the table, I want to give y’all some advice:

You must address their concerns and motivations: The loudest, most vociferous opponents of charter schools I see are middle class, white, college educated, liberal-progressives entrenched within the educational establishment. In contrast, charter parents are typically from low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools. Understanding that dichotomy is essential.

The ed establishment has a lot to answer for. Folks in educational spaces systematically silence, marginalize, and awfulize parents of color and their children. We can cite example, after example, after example, after (local) example. Add to this report-after-report about disproportionate discipline practices and persistent Opportunity Gaps, it shouldn’t surprise us that parents of color are looking for options and not in the mood for finger-waggy lectures on privatization. For activists this is a long-term societal-philosophical-cultural-political issue; for parents it’s an immediate, pragmatic what-is-best-for-my-child issue. You have to approach them through that lens. 

Work to improve the experience of students of color in traditional public schools: In urban areas, students of color are the bread and butter of charter schools. If these students received the quality of education they deserve and were treated with the dignity afforded to white, suburban, and wealthy students, charter schools wouldn’t exist and wouldn’t attract families of color at the rates they do. If you truly oppose charter schools, the most impactful thing you can do is work to make public schools places where students of color, particularly low-income black and Latinx students, feel valued, welcomed, and loved. 

Every time a parent of color enrolls their child in a charter school it's a vote of no confidence in the traditional K-12 public school system. Sooner or later we have to reckon with that.

You can be right on the issue and still be wrong: Here’s the deal, friends. You’re right about neo-liberalism and the decaying of public goods, but ain’t nobody trying to hear that from you when it comes to their child’s well-being. We all know there are awful schools and school systems out there in desperate need of transformation. The folks who are supposed to send their kids to these schools deserve better.

Whether intentional or not, sometimes it seems activists value the “institution of public education” more than they value the "outcomes of the kids within it." I don’t think this is actually the case, but this is a rhetorical misstep that parents of color see and that school choice advocates seize on.  

Screeds, hot take FB rants, and 300 word newspaper comments berating folks may feel good, but they also turn potential allies into actual enemies. If you really care about public education, you’re better off standing shoulder-to-shoulder with parents of color in pursuit of fair treatment, (non-test based) accountability for teachers, better instruction, and funding equity than you are berating them in FB threads and with your Twitter fingers.

That's the real work.

Dedicated to my friends Sheree, Keith, and Korbett for putting up with more nonsense than you should ever have to about what’s best for your own children
 

 




 

The Power of Books: The NNSTOY Social Justice Booklist

My current to read or re-read pile.

My current to read or re-read pile.

I should read more than I do. Everyone should. I think we’d be better off as a nation and a species if we all read more.

Teachers have a unique role in fostering a love of reading and engendering an appreciation for the power of books. As I think over my life, most of my philosophical evolution, the changes to my worldview, and pivots on important issues were driven by the written word. I was a College Republican, until I discovered Orwell. I hated scifi, until I discovered Ursula K. Le Guin. I thought environmentalism was hokey, until I discovered Derek Jensen. I only survived my fourth year of teaching, because I discovered Vicktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. More recently, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen changed how I deal with public acts of racial aggression (I groan--I don’t sigh).

This blog is called “A Teacher’s Evolving Mind.” I try to model in my professional practice and personal advocacy what it means to “learn publicly.” Two summers ago, I was traveling in Spain and read The Fire Next Time basically in one sitting. I turned to my wife, with tears in my eyes, and asked “why the hell didn’t someone put this in my hands when I was younger?” Last school year, following the election, we started a political bookclub for our students. Baldwin was one of the first selections we read. Many of my students had the same “scales falling from their eyes experience” that I had on that bus to Gijon. This is what we get to do as teachers. We get to introduce students to just the right book, at just the right moments in their lives.

#LincolnReaders aka the Bowling Bookclub

#LincolnReaders aka the Bowling Bookclub

This is a privilege, but at the same time can be daunting. Over the last year members of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year have curated a “Social Justice Booklist” with selections by grade band and subject matter, and including book recommendations for teachers. It’s a collective effort by some of the best teachers in the country and it’s a great place to start when looking for books for students.

Some of my favorites from the list:

Esperanza Rising, a middle grades book, shows the long, complicated relationship between the US and Mexican-Americans looking for a better life and opportunities.

War Against the Weak, a high school book, discusses the (often well-intended, but clearly misguided) history of the eugenics movement in the US and elsewhere. I read this book in college with my jaw in my lap.

This is Not a Test, a book for teachers, written by #Educolor Founder Jose Vilson. Vilson was one of the first folks I saw online describe my own frustration of being a teacher of color, unsatisfied with the status quo, and simultaneously feeling dissatisfaction with the reform movement.

And even though it’s not on the list, for me, put Baldwin in every kid’s hand you can. Don’t let the Nates in your class be thirty-five before they read The Fire Next Time.

Fam, I’m Not Here for your Millennial Shaming

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

In the summer of 1946, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump were all born. The planet may never recover.

The Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation defeated fascism, built the interstate highway system, and most of our modern infrastructure. They electrified Appalachia, ended Southern Jim Crow de jure segregation, rebuilt a third of the planet via the Marshall Plan, and artfully avoided vaporizing the planet in a nuclear holocaust in the Cold War.

In contrast, the Boomers still can’t get over Vietnam.

I was born in 1979, the tail end of Generation X and Boomers have dominated American politics my entire adult life. They’ve waged a pointless, polarizing, five decade long culture war. Boomers wasted billions in a racist and classist war on drugs that has militarized local law enforcement, and fueled mass incarceration. They’ve delayed maintenance on the infrastructure they inherited to the point that bridges are literally falling down and our rail system falls somewhere between Poland and Morrocco’s. They have poisoned our politics through congressional gerrymandering, corporate media consolidation, and dumbed-down-cable news-soundbite politics. Most damaging, they killed the idea of “Americans as Citizens” -- people with a sense of shared obligation and ushered in the period of “Americans as Taxpayers” -- atomized, lone wolves with no appreciation of history, civics nor the common good.

The evidence of decline is all around us. Our most beautiful and important bridges and infrastructure were all built decades ago. I recently returned from a trip to Eastern Washington where I visited the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams. While standing in their respective visitors’ centers, I realized that they, like almost every Park Service or Interior Department facility that I’ve visited, are frozen in amber relics from the 1980s. This is about the time Congress started taking a hatchet to the non-defense discretionary budget in order to pay for endless waves of tax cuts for Boomers.

The Laffer Curve could only come from and could only work on this silly, selfish generation. They have lavished benefits on themselves: Medicare Part D, mortgage interest deductions, and decades of war abroad -- all while demanding tax cut, after tax cut, after tax cut. This is the essence of Boomer economics: after benefiting from more taxpayer subsidies than any US generation, they’ve hollowed out of the commons in order to provide tax breaks to themselves, and debt & deficits in perpetuity for us.

From Bakersfield Observed

From Bakersfield Observed

I am a part of the last generation of Americans who could feasibly work their way through college and graduate debt free. Somewhere in the late-aughts driven by stagnated wages and skyrocketing tuition costs, working your way through college became nearly impossible. In half a lifetime, college tuition costs have risen from under $500 per year to their current levels, where the typical graduate crosses the stage with +$37,000 in debt. Rising tuition costs are driven by declining state support for universities, which is driven by tax cuts. Boomers are the worst.

Boomers have waged inter-generational financial warfare on future generations, all the while calling them lazy, undisciplined, and impractical. How exactly do we build a future middle class if higher education is out of reach for those who need it most -- the working poor? This is a problem the Boomers lack the capacity, willingness, and empathy to solve, but it is one we must confront in the near future.

I’ve had my fill with Millennial shaming. The business press concern trolls debt-ladened Millennials (and soon Gen Z kids) with petty, hot-take articles about them destroying the diamond industry (good riddance to De Beers), bar soap (because it’s gross and unsanitary), Applebee’s (it won’t be missed), and my favorite -- the housing market (spoiler: they're delaying buying homes because of low wages and the aforementioned $37k average student loan debt).

I've met with and lobbied Boomer policymakers at every level of government. It’s an exhausting exercise. But, in my 9-5, I've spent the last eleven years teaching Millennials and now Generation Z kids. It's not even a contest. The kids are more empathetic, less judgmental, more collaborative, and more justice-oriented than the folks running our country today. They're less ideologically rigid and think the current era of partisan gridlock is dumb (which it surely is). The kids are alright. A future built by Millennials and Generation Z kids will be far brighter and egalitarian than the present. I pray I live long enough to see the world they'll create, if the Boomers don't destroy it all first.