The Educational Problem With the Kente Cloth Performance.

As a former principal, I fully appreciate the power of positive symbols. And so, I am not questioning the sincerity (hearts) of our Kente adorned politicians, or even their right to wear the attire of any one of the many American beautiful collage of cultural attires, some representing groups who are daily disrespected and denigrated by the present occupant of 1600 Black Lives Matter Way. My concern with the recent ‘Kente wearing performance’ is that it is tragically symptomatic of what always happens in public education, where rhetoric, form, and appearances are offered to the Black community, in place of real educational learning quality substance and authentic change for the children of that community.

Recently in NYC a great deal of ‘storm and drama’ was created by the introduction of that politically hot trigger word, ‘integration’. And unfortunately, NYC’s Asian students (and their communities) were unfairly maligned and castigated for doing nothing wrong except following the rules and conditions that were established in the past and were actually created to help white students and not Asian students gain access to the then 3 academic specialized high schools!

I along with several others informed whoever would listen that in reality, the NYCDOE had complete (total) control over the admissions policies of the majority of ‘specialized high schools’ in the city, as well as the many specialized high school programs (inside of schools), and those high schools with a special admissions process. The NYCDOE could have enacted major, sweeping, dramatic and profound access changes (for Black and Latino children) at 10X the population of the three specialized high schools that formed the center of the integration controversy; and this could have been done without seeking the permission of any state or local legislature (or emotionally beating up on Asian students).
And further, the NYCDOE has the authority to redesign a present high school or design a brand new school that could then essentially become: a Brooklyn Technical High School #2, Bronx Science H.S. #2 or Stuyvesant High School #2; and no legislative body can stop the NYCDOE from doing this.

The best-ignored solution, of course, is to ‘integrate’ great school leaders, quality instructional practices, adequate materials, supplies and equipment, and high expectations and efficacy into any school a Black or Latino child attended; thus properly preparing them for the SHSAT or any standardized exam they will face in life.

In terms of that important ‘Integration’ ‘pipe-line’ to gain access to a high performing high school, also known as K-8 gifted and talented programs. We proved in (2000-2003) Community School District 29 Queens (CSD29Q); that there is no legal or regulatory ‘cap’ on the number of gifted and talented programs that can exist in a local school district (e.g. NYCDOE). In CSD29Q we placed (without consulting the central board) additional G&T programs in a geographical and performance cross-section of schools in the district, thus giving more students who were on and above academic grade and performance levels the ability to receive the rigorous and challenging academic work that met their needs. It is my hope, that out of a very tragic situation for the Floyd family, a legacy of a national and local political action hunger will grow for the realization of serious and not superficial change.

I think the common cry theme we are hearing from all over this nation and the world; is that people want real change, not symbolic gestures. It’s been a ‘nice ride’ for a Democratic Party whose, let’s just be honest, total credibility and legitimacy with Black people is wholly dependent on the Republican Party performing (‘acting the fool’) in the role of first-class bigots and racist; but, that’s not a sound long-term organizing and mobilizing strategy.

Further, the “just vote your troubles away” Black leaders have taken some serious (but not fatal) hits as of late. For example: Black New Yorkers overwhelmingly voted in a ‘northern liberal’ city, for an alleged ‘progressive’ mayor; and yet clearly the NYC police department is not properly operating under civilian control and seems to be immune (inoculated by the various police unions), from adopting any of the modern enlightened and effective policing methods. We only need to look at the Philippines to see what results from a para-military police force not being under civilian and judicial control.

I suspect that the Republican’s racist and bigotry posture won’t change even if Trump is removed. Full disclosure: I’m voting not so much for Biden, but to remove a serious existential threat to the well-being and safety of many citizens in this nation and the world. But I am only one vote, and if I were the Democratic National Committee (DNC) I would be careful and concerned for that day when the Republican bigotry ‘pass’ alone won’t grant the DNC access to the ‘collective black cookout’.

The DNC better start thinking about some real and substantial change actions (not Republican lite projects) quickly. Don’t just show-up but show-out with some meaningful generational improvement economic and educational* change initiatives. And importantly, don’t keep believing that you can also just show-up, year-after-year thinking you’ll get into the collective black cookout by simply wearing Ghanaian, Kenyan, Nigerian, Senegalese, Egyptian, etc. outerwear. I think Black people are beginning to say: “Come real or don’t come at all!”

*would require that the DNC end their unquestioning and unprincipled alliance with teacher’s unions!

Some groups in our nation utilize “Eldership Wisdom” better than others, but anyway here is…

My brief 1960-70’s experienced political demonstration advice to young folks:

Get a purpose, reason, and a clear well-thought-out (this is what we want to happen) set of objectives. I made the mistake of being part of an action that demanded the appointment of “Black Administrators”; well they agreed and brought in a ‘black’ Administrator who made the white administrators look progressive and blacker then himself!

Get this clear: “Privilege follows the topic”. All protesters (even if they are protesting the same issue) are not seen as deserving of the same and equal treatment by the police and criminal justice system.

Get people out of your ranks and the demonstration (any color) who are: “political adventurists”, opportunists, reckless, and not disciplined; they could derail the purpose of your movement; and possibly get you arrested or even killed.

Get the people out of your ranks whose ‘professional assignment’ is to delegitimize the very legitimate rationale for the demonstration. Newark NJ did a brilliant job (mayor who is the son of an activist) of ‘dispersing’ and immersing authentic community activists throughout the marching crowd so that they could quickly and effectively eliminate any ‘off-message’ provocateurs.

Get reckless and undisciplined people out of your ranks whose ‘mommy and daddy’ has the racially entitled power to make any penalty occurring out of their ‘momentarily revolutionary fervor’ to go away, and not hurt them in the future. On the other hand, your ‘racial identity’ in America (Blackness) is a life-time existential reality; that you can’t ‘grow-out-of’. And your mommy and daddy probably don’t have the contacts and resources to help you when you are captured by the criminal justice system.

Get a daytime (this is even for your own safety) demonstration schedule, and then let the folks who want to do whatever they do at night do it without you.

Get a hold of some good African-American authored history books (e.g. Manning Marable) and study. This is not the first demonstration/civil action in America. And surprise, you actually have people walking around your neighborhood who have been part of successful similar efforts; and you can learn from their victories and mistakes.

Pardon me, but I just want the Black citizens of this nation to think about something, for a moment…

I know everyone is focused right now (and rightfully so) on the discriminatory and excessive behaviors of many of our nations police forces; as well as the ability of any white American citizen to deputize themselves and call for a ‘death sentence’ to be inflicted on any Black person they encounter; Black people who could be doing anything from mowing their own lawn, bird watching or delivering (in uniform) a UPS package. With those very pressing day-to-day: “Don’t know if I or my child will live to see the end of the day!” thoughts weighing on our individual and collective minds. And, on top of that having a proto-fascist, unhinged, mocker of Christianity US president; who quite frankly large numbers of our fellow white citizens think is doing a good job or is ok except for perhaps the way he expresses his racism and bigotry, but not how he practices it. I get it, you Black America have a lot of things on your mind. But please indulge this Black senior citizen educator to engage in my 40 year-long rant (as a form of self-healing Covid-19 quarantine psychotherapy.)

I want you to just take a moment to think about something. With the full racist character of our nation being explicitly exposed, not created by Trump (he is a conductor, not an inventor); and how that culture of racism permeates every aspect of our national life including deadly discriminatory treatment during a health crisis. Please, think about this.
Now I know from experience that this is not a ‘politically-sexy’ topic. But if you could think for a moment, as to how racism defines how Black children are received, perceived, and treated in our US public school systems… And who (if not us) is going to protect, defend and save them? I’m just asking you to think about it. (But then, at some point of course, I really want you to do something about it!) Granted, many of the destroyers of Black children’s gifts, talents, and dreams, look like the children they pretend to serve; well we need to do something about them also!