In the latest episode of Have You Heard, Jack Schneider and I have a spirited back-and-forth with none other than Michelle Rhee. Jack asks her if she’s ready to admit that evaluating teachers on the basis of their student test scores has been a bad idea. I channel Gary Rubinstein and ask Rhee if the teaching profession has suffered as a result of the policies she and her advocacy group, Students First, pushed across the country. And we talk about what’s next for education reform in the time of Trump. So what does Rhee have to say to our questions? Well, you’ll have to listen to find out! Or you can skip ahead and read the transcript.
School choice advocates have been largely silent on Trump’s awfulness—and that speaks volumes, says early childhood educator Jamila Carter
By Jamila Carter
I recently read an opinion piece that was written by a school choice advocate who attempted to justify why so many white people voted for an openly racist, misogynist, xenophobe. The author pointed to class and the disenfranchisement of poor whites as the main drivers of the outcome, minimizing the role that racism played in the election results. But what was missing from this analysis was the fact that, of Trump’s voters, 45% were white, college educated women and 54% were white college educated.
Downplaying the fact that the foundation of Trump’s campaign was rooted firmly in fear and hatred of the *other* displays willful ignorance. And explaining the voting pattern of White America by class rather than race ignores history. Trump’s divide and conquer methods are nothing new. While those of us who are people of color, immigrants, Muslims or LGBTQ are still stunned, grieving and fearful of what a Trump Administration will mean for us, this writer and far too many others are insisting that we consider why so many white people opted to throw us under the bus.
Since America’s inception, we’ve seen elites and politicians pit working class whites against people of color in order to protect their own interests and acquire political gain. This is the very strategy that laid the foundation for a race based system of oppression. This is precisely the strategy that was used to win the election. People who voted for Trump transcend gender and class, and in some cases, race. But however deeply disillusioned Trump voters are with our economy and political system, it does not erase the fact that people voted for him despite his awful rhetoric, knowing that his proposed policies will not affect their lives.
It is hard for me to comprehend how those who paint themselves as champions for poor Black and Brown families, claiming to work tirelessly to ensure that these children have access to quality educational options, can somehow ignore the fact that Trump’s campaign othered and dehumanized, and in some cases, jeopardized the safety of these very families.
It is hard for me to comprehend how those who paint themselves as champions for poor Black and Brown families, claiming to work tirelessly to ensure that these children have access to quality educational options, can somehow ignore the fact that Trump’s campaign othered and dehumanized, and in some cases, jeopardized the safety of these very families. It’s incredibly hypocritical that education reformers see fit to appropriate the language of the civil rights movement and its most notable leaders to further their agenda, but somehow excuse Donald Trump supporters for their violent and racist attacks against anyone who doesn’t look like, pray like or love like them. There is no excuse. I’m not sure if these school choice advocates slept through the campaign, but the rest of America heard all too loudly Trump’s dog whistle uniting his supporters by invoking two emotions: hate and fear. It was at the very heart of his campaign.
Perhaps some folks in the corporate education reform movement empathize with Trump supporters because the movement and the Trump campaign aren’t so different. Both use disingenuous language that we have heard time and time again, never veering from the *message,* no matter how redundant or condescending. The difference is that the rhetoric spewed by the former, appeals to people who have been affected by systemic racism and disinvestment in the schools in their communities, while Trump’s rhetoric played on the fears of white people who felt that the America that they were entitled to had somehow slipped away. Hence the rallying cry: *Make America Great Again.* Unfortunately, this great America* doesn’t seem to include the children that these self-proclaimed advocates claim to want to *save.*
Trump insults us by pledging to clean up the *inner cities* through stop-and-frisk and a return to *law and order,* recycling the racist rhetoric of politicians of the past. The favored phrases of education reformers, meanwhile—grit, no excuses and accountability—may appear harmless at first, but pull back the veil and we realize that they lead to higher expulsion and suspension rates for black and brown children, education that centers on standardized testing, and the implication that poor children of color lack character and the ability to persevere when faced with hardship. Trump and education reformers also share an intolerance for criticism. Raise your voice against any aspect of the corporate education reform movement and you are *aiding in keeping poor black and brown children trapped in failing schools.*
I wonder how the *movement* that cloaks itself in the language of racial justice and civil rights will reconcile the fact that the President elect has thrown his full support behind school choice? Will they abandon their talking points to further the agenda? Will they in turn throw their full support behind a man who has stoked the fires of hate and fear? Or will they stand up for the families that have been systematically denied the same opportunities as their white counterparts?
No matter what the intent, the impact of this election will be devastating for our children. It’s time that privileged reform advocates acknowledge our children’s humanity and replace talking points, catchphrases and empty rhetoric with the real work of educational equity and social justice in our schools.
Jamila Carter is a mother of three and an early childhood educator in Philadelphia, PA. Follow her on Twitter at @jubimom.
I talk to Tom Frank, author of Listen, Liberal, about the Democrats’ break up with the working class and why education can’t save us…
Tom Frank: The Democrats are now a party of the professional class: affluent, white-collar professionals. They themselves say this all the time; they talk about the professional class as being their constituency. But we don’t often try to put the pieces together and try to figure out, well what does it mean to be a party of the professional class vs. the working class? One thing it means is that inequality is seen as the natural order of things. In fact, professionals believe in inequality. They think of inequality as totally fair and the way things should be, and they think that because they themselves are the winners in the great inequality sweepstakes. Continue reading →
Editor’s note: When I heard education ethicist Jacob Fay give a talk last spring on the ethics of school closures, a brilliant idea occurred to me. What if I could convince him to collaborate with me on an advice column for the ethically conflicted, confused or challenged? Reader: he leaped at the opportunity and Dear Edulosopher was born. I get things rolling today with a question about my own ethical responsibilities as an opinionated blogger. In future installments, Fay will respond to a voter torn over how to vote on a ballot question that would expand charter schools in Massachusetts, a progressive-minded teacher who worries that she’s gotten just a little too comfortable enforcing *no-excuses* style discipline, and [insert your ethically-charged topic here.] All questions welcomed!
I write a blog about the unintended consequences of education reform, and I often feature parent voices on my site. Or as has been pointed out to me on multiple occasions, I feature some parent voices. The narratives I share tend to *align* with my point of view. They feature parents on hunger strikes demanding a neighborhood school, protesting excessive discipline at charter schools, or refusing to let their kids (or grandkids) take standardized tests. What you won’t find are the stories of parents who are rallying, marching and lobbying to demand more charter schools in [insert the name of city here]. While it’s true that I’ve never been asked to run anything like this, it’s also the case that I don’t seek out these narratives like I do the parent protesters whose causes I agree with. My defense is that I have a *litmus question* I apply when it comes to evaluating parent activism: do the parents involved have any say over the thing they’re demanding? For example, if they’re pushing for more *great schools,* do they get to determine what a *great school* is? But a small part of me thinketh that I doth protesteth too much. If I make the claim to care about parent voice, shouldn’t I care about all kinds of parent voices, even if I don’t necessarily like what they’re saying? Continue reading →
Is it time for a second installment of my new podcast, Have You Heard, already? Indeed it is, and in this episode, we head to New Orleans, where there’s a rebellion brewing against the city’s decade-long experiment with urban education reform. We speak to the unlikely leader of the revolt to find out why residents of the Big Easy say that changes are being made “to them, not with them” and how this uprising could be heading to a city near you.
I can’t wait to hear what you think! Send comments, criticism, cheery greetings and suggested topics for future episodes to firstname.lastname@example.org.