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Courtesy of National Review
Op-Ed By Nehemiah Frank
There is an anti-charter school movement that is sweeping the US like an uncontrollable wide-fire. Black students, once again, are unfortunately caught in the crossfires amid political drive-bys taking place between the Red and Blue gangs, who are the Democrat and Republican parties. Two political bodies seemingly fail to harken on the desires that black Americans actually wanted during the Brown v Board of Education debate in the early 1950s, which was equity in education, academically and administratively.
Instead, black America received a black teacher shortage, chronic and pandemic rates of school suspension, low expectations all resulting in low academic performance. It also came packaged with a Eurocentric patriotic dogma that seemingly convinced many of us, black Americans, that we were nothing more than an enslaved people that were taken from an uncivilized continent, a people whose concrete position was to forever remain as America’s lower caste.
On Thursday evening amid a sea of education advocates, I sat and watched a movie, “Backpack Full of Cash,” that missed the mark again. The debate on racial equity was visibly absent from the film and to some aspects the panel discussion which followed. During the debate, the only panelist to all appearances suggesting a dialogue on the topic of racial equity were the panelist of color. And like a siren, it is usually people of color who initiate the racial equity conversation. Which causes pause and makes one think: Either a vast majority of white American educators are still uncomfortable with engaging in difficult conversations about race or they are not interested in engaging in the racial equity conversation at all.
The film lumped and painted America’s charter schools as a coup of corporations funded by a right-wing, conservative agenda to disrupt and dismantle traditional American public schools. The film was narrated by Hollywood actor Matt Damon, who has become a spokesman and advocate for the anti-charter school movement all while sending his, own, children to expensive private schools in New York City. Matt Damon chose not to send his kids to local public schools because he is wealthy and therefore has the privilege of school choice. However, he rejects the notion that everyday Americans should have that same choice of sending their children to higher quality schools.
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Most Americans will never taste nor experience the astronomical wealth to the likes of Hollywood professionals. In fact, most black Americans will never even enjoy the fruit of the middle-class life in suburbia. Studies indicate that a vast majority of America is still segregated de jure-ly, merely living in racially homogenous neighborhoods. The effect results in a racial polarization of America’s public schools and its funding because few black Americans can afford to live in the suburbs or in districts that boast high quality public schools.
“Backpack Full of Cash” failed to address those backpacks that left inner-city schools during the height of racial integration in America’s schools. A trail of cash flowed to the suburbs carried by white children during two decades of white flight. The movie attacked charter schools that create opportunities for low-income black and brown families who chose to opt-out of failing neighborhood schools, the same school choice that Matt Damon chose for his, own, children.
Black Americans have always desired to be the masters of their, own, fate. When failing schools are seemingly the only option, smart parents will opt-out of sending their child to their neighborhood schools. They will choose either a high performing public magnet school or a public charter school for their child.
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Teacher unions despise the school choice movement. They often blame Republicans for it, but they fail to look in the mirror, not understanding that they are part of the problem, too. Whether Democrats want to face the music or not, America’s white supremacist machine permeates within both political parties and even within teacher unions. They operate with an unconscious bias, calming they aren’t racist, but aggressively push against a black community’s inalienable civil right to school choice.
No one hurls criticism at the upwardly mobile black Americans, choosing to leave their communities for better opportunities, seemingly fleeing with their children from blighted inner-city schools for wealthy and high performing suburban school districts, nor do we criticize the wealthy private schools that scholarship disadvantage black children. No one calls fowl on the suburban schools or carved out district schools’ athletic departments when they selfishly recruit black children from their neighborhood schools. All avenues result in backpacks full of cash leaving inner city schools and taking the budget with them.
What many anti-charter folks fail to understand is that there are different types of charter schools: Charter schools are formed and operated by either community organizations or for-profit companies. It’s important to realize that black community organizers, who are education advocates, start charter schools because they want more autonomy over their neighborhood schools.
During the integration process, Black Americans lost autonomy over their neighborhood schools. Instead of learning about the greatness of our heritage, we lost control over our communities because we no longer controlled the holistic educational approach of our black children’s future. Community-based charter schools have given back the autonomy that black educators and education advocates were missing since the integration of American schools.
The black charter school movement began long before the ’90s. It began in the ‘70s, when education activist and teacher Marva Collins opened Westside Preparatory School in Chicago, IL. Mrs. Collins had full autonomy over the curriculum and was able to reach and inspire her black students in ways that the public school system could not. Her school and model inspired many of the black charter schools we have around the US today. Public charter schools that mirror the Marva Collins’ model deserve complete immunity during this anti-charter school wave.
“Kids don’t fail,” she once said. “Teachers fail, school systems fail. The people who teach children that they are failures — they are the problem.” — Marva Collins
Let us be masters of our fate and our future’s education.
Watch the Marva Collins’ story below staring legendary actress Cicely Tyson:
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Oklahoma State University. A rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the education reform movement, Nehemiah frequently travels for speaking engagements around the country, is a blogger for Education Post, and has been featured on NBC as well as in Blavity and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts in Tulsa, OK, a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, and a 2018 Oluko Fellow. He gave a TED Talk at The University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018.