Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times released an article announcing that Chicago native, rapper and actor, Common, was financially backing an arts-focused charter school. And as the link views and article shares rose, I witnessed a nice amount of my Facebook feed begin to turn a cold shoulder towards someone who was revered as a man of the South Side of Chicago, and of the people. Folks know they can be cruel and flaky.
There are several factors that would make one raise an eyebrow. The school proposal comes from the head of a mega-church and uncomfortably straddles the line of separation of church and state. Common’s mother and longtime Chicago Public Schools (CPS) board member, Mahalia Hines, has the power to approve the school’s opening—even though she says that she will exclude herself from the process—which is also a little sketchy. But, one minuscule detail that I think overshadows the obvious and bothers people the most is the fact that Common is backing a charter school.
Words cannot express how tired I am of the argument of traditional versus charter. If a school is serving its students and families well, what difference does it make what the model is? And if traditional public schools were adequately educating all of their students then there would be no need for parents to seek out other options. With the growing diversity of our country and individual needs varying student to student, we need more educational options—not the one-size-fits-all model that has traditionally blanketed K-12 public education.
But aside from that, if Common wants to invest his money into an arts-focused charter school, he can do that—because it’s his money.
While Common may not be a trained educator, he is a successful artist. One can deduce that whomever or whatever resources were invested in cultivating his talents, Common feels that they were instrumental in making him who he is today. And in that realization, he sees value in an arts-based education that can support students who have similar talents and interests.
So what’s so wrong with him backing a mission that aligns with his passion?
I get it. The words “charter school” have a negative connotation here in Chicago, especially after the infamous mass closing of public schools and the rapid but plateaued growth of charters. But, we cannot ignore the fact that some parents have advocated for other options because traditional schools weren’t working for their families. And we must not disregard the gains that some charters have made, particularly in underserved communities.
We have to vacate the notion that the opening of these schools is really a political agenda designed to eradicate traditional public education and focus on what’s working for our kids—regardless of the category the school falls under. We have to demand better outcomes, push past the politics and push for accountability in every sector of public education. And we must stop persecuting and abandoning leaders who have a track record of uplifting communities when we disagree with one thing that they do.
Common, if no one else rocks with you on this, I do.