“Feds charge 12 Detroit principals in $1M kickback scheme”

“In its latest crackdown on school corruption in Detroit, the federal government today launched a legal bomb targeting 12 current and former Detroit Public School principals, one administrator and a vendor — all of them charged with running a nearly $1-million bribery and kickback scheme involving school supplies that were rarely ever delivered.”— Detroit Free Press

Unfortunately, I have seen this show up close and personal when as a principal I had to leave my school in the middle of the 2000 school year, in order to take charge of a school district ( where the leadership had abandon the children. Children most of whom, looked a lot like those same abandoning and thieving administrators. These failed educators sadly turned an entire district into a criminal enterprise. And what troubled me the most by what I saw, was the cynical and callous combination of the pilfering of the much-needed monetary funds, plus the educational theft the children suffered.

That district needed every penny it could get since it had a large number of title 1 students, academically struggling students, a large number of ELL- ESL (Latino, Asian, Haitian) students, and the highest concentration of students in any NYC school district, living in temporary housing. People can go to jail, and some of the money can even be recovered. But the educational resources needed in a specific time and situation are lost forever. That learning “moment in time” is lost to the children, forever. Children, many of whom sat in front of missing, dead and/or unworkable computers every day for years, saw their educational opportunity become irreplaceably lost, forever.
And that part is often understated when we have the noisy-news-media braking up of these criminal projects and test cheating scandals; the missing part is the permanent damaging effects of educational lost to the children, that no jail time or fine can fix.

Quite honestly, over those three years (and throughout my career) I often wondered: What the heck is wrong with some Black educational leaders? Did they grow up and live in some alternate American reality that was different from my own? Did they not even flip the TV channel one evening and accidentally land on the TV series: “Roots”? Or by chance see either of the “Stand” movies: “Stand by Me” or “Stand and Deliver”? Did they ever pick up a copy of the: “Autobiography of Malcolm X”; Cornel West’s: “Race Matters” or Baldwin’s: “The Price of the Ticket” by mistake, and read a couple of chapters? Stumble upon “From Slavery to Freedom” (John Hope Franklin); and wonder on which end of the Slavery to Freedom spectrum they stood. Read: “Mis-Education of the Negro” (Carter G. Woodson), and think about if whether they were promoting the “Mis”, or the “Education”? Did they glance at MLK’s: “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, and wondered why he was sitting in that jail cell? Heard “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou, and mistakenly thought that after all of the sacrifices of the elders and ancestors, it was a call to: Still I Fall into personal greed. Thought about what it was that was worth dying for to cause Claude McKay to pen the poem: “If We Must Die” (Hint: it was for our children!) Ever looked at a child for whom school is their only chance for achieving a good and decent life, and wondered: “What happens to a dream differed?”(Langston Hughes) Or maybe, just maybe, they flipped through a pew Bible once between sermon-naps in church, and accidentally landed on Proverbs 1:19- “Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it.”

A word, phrase, a passing hint somewhere in life that would suggest to them that these children, who are up against the worse the nation can dish out, somehow needed them the most. Something, anything that would lead them to feel bad about cheating and stealing from their students, and cheating and stealing from their own truth and calling.

And if not human, what of professional ethics? Did they read Mike Rose’s: “Lives on the Boundary” or his: “Possible Lives”? Were they asleep in their education classes, when the professor covered Paulo Freire, Lisa Delpit or Jonathan Kozol. Did they not once hear of Booker T. Washington, Ron Edmunds, WEB Du Bois, Lorraine Monroe, Asa Hilliard, Adelaide Sanford, Barbara Sizemore, Mary McLeod Bethune, J. Jerome Harris, et al, at all?

Something, anything, even a brief fading memory. Anything instead of nothing, not a clue, not a thought, not a single idea that would help them to understand while they were looking in the morning mirror, that hurting the children, who look like the person they saw in the mirror, was not the way to go. Did it ever occur that these children who are the most hurt by our society, the kids living dangerously on the perimeter of the American dream; that stealing from these students is probably one of the most horrible and destructive things an educator can do.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal and superintendent.