Time to Unite and Fight Like Hell!
By Jamaal Bowman, NYC Principal
I have many friends and colleagues that I admire and respect who work for charter schools. I have no doubt that they love children and would give their lives to transforming our highest need communities.
My friends and colleagues have no problem working in charter schools partly because far too often, because of the convoluted bureaucracy, public schools get in their own way. As a result, many children have suffered. This is not the public-school norm; as the propaganda machine of privatization would lead us to believe. Through their control of media and political influence, a new “common sense” has been created. Public schools are failing, while charter schools are thriving. The reality is, on average, public and charter schools perform about the same on achievement tests.
From the moment I began to pursue my school building leadership license, I knew I wanted to lead a public school. I don't know why, but charter schools felt very corporate and elitist to me at the time. After my residency at an Achievement First charter school, my presumptions were just the tip of the iceberg. Not only were charter schools corporate and elitist, but they were also abusive.
At my Achievement First residency, breakfast and lunch were silent for children. Hallway transitions were also silent. In classrooms, students had to use specific hand signals to ask questions and use the restroom. In my professional opinion as a certified teacher, school counselor, and building principal, these policies are child abuse. Achievement First is not the only charter school that implements these so called zero tolerance policies. The same practices are applied at schools like Democracy Prep, and Success Academy charter schools.
Some conservatives might read this and think it is okay to treat children this way because kids are “out of control” and need order. From my perspective, I wonder why children in white communities are not treated this way, while a black child’s pedagogy has to revolve around some form of oppression; especially considering most of the charter organization’s leadership is white.
Another important point is the fact that charter school environments seem to be abusive to teachers as well, as teacher attrition at charter schools is tremendously high.
Since my time at Achievement First, I've learned an awful lot about the political and financial incentives associated with the charter school movement. I've learned that this movement is not about charter schools and student learning, it is about the privatization of America and a pedagogy of oppression for the masses. Charter schools in general are non-union entities, and not only are they exceedingly unregulated by the state and thus prime for corruption, their teachers do not have the ability to collectively bargain -- which is the bedrock of any healthy democracy.
Teacher unions are arguably the strongest remaining union in the country. If they are defeated, America will be fully privatized and our democracy will officially be an oligarchy. There are many who would argue that democracy is already dead in America as we have elected a corporation, Donald Trump, into the presidency. Judging by president-elect Trump’s initial moves, he is following the conservative playbook, and his choice for education secretary is no different. Trump, like his conservative base, wants to privatize and control all of the institutions, people, and resources of our country and the world.
Just look at our economic divide and all that has contributed to it. Wall Street took control of the housing market through mortgage backed securities, and collapsed the economy; while a percentage of the 1% gained enormous additional power and wealth in the process. Citizens United’s unlimited investment in elections, tips the scales of our democracy in favor of the wealthiest. Lobbying by the wealthy over the last forty years has created policy, like reversing Glass-Stegall, that has made the banks our masters and us the economically enslaved. Bank CEO’s along with oil tycoons, are the richest and most powerful individuals in the world.
Now they are coming for our schools; the last domino to fall in the global privatization equation. Once they take over public schools and destroy the teacher unions, we will be a racist oligarchy led by the wealthy elite. This is Donald Trump’s mission and plan.
I wonder how the blue collar hard right (alt-right) Trump supporters perceive their place in the privatization equation. Will all the new jobs go to them, and allow them to sustain their place in a class system above certain “undesirable” groups? Do they care about the core of our democracy; freedom, being taken away, or are they more concerned with their ability to oppress Blacks, Latinos,Jews, Asians, and Arabs?
Back to charter schools for a moment, for the charters that perform well, not only is their curriculum linear and narrow, they have also implemented a system to ensure that only the savvy parent with the right social capital could handle the rigors of the charter school application and enrollment criteria. I would also like to see some of the data of the students before they transfer to the charter schools. Were they at or near “proficient” on state tests? The point here is, charters do not work for all kids and parents.
The weapon of choice for public Ed privatizers is standardized tests. High stakes standardized tests, forces schools to implement a test prep curriculum. Test prep learning involves the rudimentary learning of isolated information, with little to no opportunity for understanding concepts, connections, big ideas and complex systems. This method of schooling creates a populace that’s cognitively compromised, and vulnerable to oppression. Creativity, evaluation, authentic problem solving, collaboration, agility, initiative, and leadership, all skills necessary to thrive in a healthy democracy, are absent from the standardized testocracy as the brilliant Jesse Hagopian (you have to watch his Ted Talk) refers to it. Ironically, the schools where the privatizers send their children, do not administer annual high stakes standardized tests and implement innovative curricula and pedagogy.
The same standardized testing weapon was also very popular during the eugenics movement. That movement was designed to "prove" that certain races and groups of people were inferior and thus it was okay to oppress, neglect, disenfranchise, and reject them. The strategy goes as follows: mistreat and oppress a group, underfund their institutions, put guns and drugs into their communities, then give them a test to show how much they don't know. Create anguish and a low sense of self-worth over time and the people will beg for you to come and save them -- enter charter schools, de-unionization and the privatization of America.
They want to control us. They want to disempower us. They want a dictatorship. And now they have a conservative republican president, a republic senate, and a republic house, with a conservative republican Supreme Court judge on the way. The conservative oligarchy has risen, will the rest of us put aside our differences, unite, and fight like hell to save ourselves and our country?