When someone you know, admire and worked with on various important issues impacting people of color, advocates a policy and political position that is so contrary to the history of their previous actions and words, you have to ask what happened.
That’s the question on my mind after reading an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times from civil rights leader Jesse Jackson attacking accountability, charter schools and education reform.
In 1983, I was the national executive director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, the country’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights membership organization, working on Jackson’s presidential campaign. We had been meeting for weeks in the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., planning an event for Jackson to announce his candidacy. I found the prospect of him running to be a breath of fresh air.
He called me one day and asked to meet at the hotel. He wanted me to consider serving as vice-chairperson for his campaign. It was an honor to be thought of in such high esteem by someone I respected.
The conversation was memorable because of the honesty of the response he gave me about whether he thought he could win.
He said clearly and without hesitation, “It is important where you finish in the race, it’s more important how many ships you bring along with you.”
I was impressed with his answer because I took it as a recognition that his candidacy was more important than himself, that he was working toward bringing about a more inclusive and responsive government and society.
Based on these experiences with Mr. Jackson, I was genuinely taken aback by his recent piece. It sounded as if he was defending institutions that he and many African Americans and Latinos have battled in court and with all levels of government for more than 100 years.
I am a product of our nation’s public schools and I did well, but there were so many kids of color like myself who didn’t—far more.
It has been the case for decades that public schools discriminate against people of color. States have funding formulas that are inherently unequal; local districts segregate schools; teachers, principals, school boards and states oppose bilingual education and culturally relevant classes; and lag in the hiring and election of minorities as teachers, principals, and school board members.
There are many good public school educators and local school board members. The sad and dangerous reality is that too many institutions these good professionals work for have produced poor results for a long time. Jackson’s central arguments that charter schools, too much testing, and school “reformers” are the problem intentionally ignores the problems minorities continue to encounter with public school systems throughout this nation.
Charter schools and reformers want to have teachers evaluated annually for the purpose of identifying strengths and areas of improvements to help them do their jobs better. Charter schools and reformers want parents to have more accountability from their local neighborhood schools so that they are performing up to the standards they expect and want for their children.
Charter schools must be held accountable more so than public schools because the last thing people of color and this nation needs is another education system that has been allowed to fail and continue to receive the public’s funding.
Mr. Jackson, stop defending bad practices and policies that you once sought to improve. When you ran for president you wanted to change Democratic Party politics as usual.
Why should black and Latino students, all children attending poor-performing public schools, be relegated to a diminished future because of the political power and money of the monopolies in the public school complex?
It is imperative for this nation’s present and future that students of color, who now constitute the majority of students, be prepared for jobs around the technological corner. They must be given every opportunity to succeed.
Don’t forget about the many ships that need to make it to port, Mr. Jackson. Your defense of the status quo hasn’t and won’t get too many to their right destination.