Last week, I was part of a conversation around creating equality and equity for Black students in the public school system. One message that was heavily floated in this forum was the need for more Black-run charter schools as a solution and an outlet to free our kids from the evils of the traditional system—and it irked the hell out of me.
Now, I don’t disagree with the notion that we need more schools independent of the oppressive system our kids are currently in, and I’m all for more Black leaders in schools. But at a time like this—when there’s so much against us and education is literally a matter of life and death—we have to be mindful of how our messaging can diminish self-determination instead of encouraging it. And we must be careful about how our privilege and personal agendas echo the same sentiments we’ve heard from the system. We must do this work with no strings attached and lead with the purpose of nation-building.
With that said, I don’t think now is a good time to just be pushing charter schools when our focus needs to be on reimagining education for Black kids and parent empowerment.
I’ve been an advocate for school choice since forever. My petty spirit constantly dreams of a day when Black people snatch our kids out of the traditional system, but mainly to bankrupt the pockets of assholes who care more about profiting off our kids than the quality of their education.
That level of pissivity is sure to meet that of plantation owners who would no longer be able to get rich off the free and torturous labor of enslaved Black people if they were freed. I hope y’all connected those dots.
Anyway, even though the system at large is racist, some parents are good with the traditional school their child attends. And—bigger picture—abruptly removing our kids from schools without a backup plan or alternative options will be even more detrimental to their learning. So, we have to work to improve what we have or dismantle what’s blocking us from a liberated education until we’ve created the means to remove our kids from this system that doesn’t value them.
To start, a lot of us education advocates, activists, reformers, etc. need to turn our privilege down a lot of notches.
In our advocacy, we preach about wanting the best for parents and students and condemn anyone else who tries to tell them what to do and how. But in our so-called expertise, a sometimes false sense of stature, and all-out forgetting where we came from, we’re guilty of looking down on or trying to dictate parents’ decisions—similar to what the system does. It’s hypocritical and insulting to parents who really do know what’s best for their child and overall, it poisons the idea of true parent choice, while trying to push school choice.
A bullet under the aforementioned point—model doesn’t matter right now. As much as the public system is largely racist, there are some traditional schools doing well by Black kids—just the same as there are charter, private and homeschools getting the job done. What matters most is the quality and delivery of the education these models are offering.
When those schools aren’t delivering a quality product—as a lot of them aren’t—that’s where we step in. And just like we’d complain about the customer service in a restaurant or at Walmart, it’s our job to do the same if these administrators, school leaders, teachers or staff in general have shitty practices when serving our kids.
And on the subject of who educates our kids—yes we want schools run by Black people, but we have to be careful about putting someone in a position of power and leadership and/or isolating them because of their skin color. What this means is, all Black educators aren’t up to par and all white educators aren’t incapable of teaching Black kids.
So, let’s stop talking about where our kids are educated and prioritize how they’re educated—and by whom. And let’s stop telling parents where to send their kids. Black people are brilliant, resilient and often make a way seemingly out of no way—just like most of us advocates did in fighting to get to where we are.
Shift the focus to empowering them. Abandon politicizing education and let’s get to reimagining learning for our kids.
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