First, I am not a fan of the philosophy that schools should be turned into centers of private enterprise and profit; there are very sensible, moral and rational reasons for schools to not follow the “profit over people” business model; mainly because our “end product” is not “widgets”, cars or chairs; but rather the creation of reflective human beings; who through our efforts can act ethically, skillfully and thoughtfully in a world full of other human beings. As public educators we seek to enhance the possibilities for every child to have a positive future; we work for the establishment of spiritual and intellectual wealth building, over the principle of material accumulation (for the obscene sake of accumulation); our work seeks to make real the fulfillment of a personal (and the American) dream; and to give every child, regardless of their status, a chance to become a creative, productive and positive participants in what is the most wealthy of nations. That is, the (so far unfulfilled) promise of public education.
If we have learned anything from the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, it is that given the encouragement, education, and a collection of adults who are thoroughly committed to the well-being and success of a child; amazing and wonderful things can happen. Simone Biles early “family struggles” didn’t keep people from seeing her personal potential; family historical status is not a permanent state, or a future predictor of talent and giftedness. I think Ms. Biles is one of many high archivers, in diverse areas of endeavors that we overlook, and deny a chance to succeed in our nation. And if public educators “coached” like: We can’t do anything about society, economics, housing, employment, or the “quality” of parents; but we can do something powerfully wonderful for this child in front of us; then our outcomes would be vastly different.
The absence of a: “do no harm to children”, “children’s right to learn, over an adult’s right to have a job” position. The presence of: “zip code, race and ethnicity as destiny” approach to public schooling, means that we will always invite “other than professional educators” to claim that they can “save education”. And unless we adopt an uncompromising code of professional ethics; and until we stop making excuses (money, parents education and the neighborhood the child is from) as to why our educational outcomes are so dismal and disappointing; there will always be the next “superman/women” (more than likely not a person of color) waiting to swoop in, even if they don’t possess any super powers or super knowledge as to how to educate children of color.
Charter school parents are voting with their feet, for the same practical and sensible reasons that my mother and a lot of other 1960’s parents, prayerfully put their children on scary school integration buses. Those parents were not knowing political allies of the Brown v. Board of Education attorney Thurgood Marshall (as worthy as his work was); and they had no illusion that having their child sit next to a White child would mean an osmotic expansion of their child’s brain cells; rather they were thinking along the lines of my mother: “When the school system teaches the white children (who they care about), they will also be forced to teach you sitting in the same classroom; (who they could care less about!) These brave and wise Black parents were simply trying to save their children. And that is what charter school parents are trying to do today; desperately trying to rescue and save their children from a public school system that is clearly disinterested in, and hostile to, the hopes and aspirations they have for those children. I would, given my own personal history, be hypocritical in criticizing charter school parents who are simply trying to save disenfranchised children that America might overlook, like I once was.
And to the extent that public education has failed to fulfill the sacred and most fundamental objectives of simply preparing children to be actors and active, and not just acted on in the future, is the extent to which we have open, and will continue to open the door to grossly unprepared, theoretically deficient, “seasonal and drive by educators”; as well as profit-making projects that have turned children of color into commodities. And in the racially discriminatory business environment of America, it is no accident that the overwhelming number of these educational entrepreneurs, don’t look like the children and families they serve.
If organizations like the NAACP want to credibly take on charter schools; then they need to also declare intense oversight over any and all organizations, politicians, groups, institutions (public and privately held) that work to delay or deny Black children the right to an enriched and empowering educational experience. Black parents are too busy trying to save and serve their child’s future; and therefore can’t hear the insincere verbiage of those seeking to serve their own self-interest.
Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, principal and superintendent.