Gadfly on the Road – Reflections on My First Book Signing



So there I was standing at a podium in Barnes and Noble before an audience of 25 people who had come to hear me talk about my book.


Speech uploaded to my iPad – check.


Cough drop – check.


Fear that no one would take me seriously – Oh, double, triple check!


Let me just say there is a big difference between sitting behind a keyboard pounding out your thoughts for consumption on the Internet, and being somewhere – anywhere – in person.


I’ve spoken at rallies. I’ve spoken at school board meetings. I’ve spoken in private with lawmakers and news people.


But none of that is quite like being the center of attention at your own invitation, asking people to take time out of their busy lives and drag their physical selves to some prearranged place at some prearranged time just to hear whatever it is you’ve got to say.


I had been practicing my remarks for weeks after school.


I had a 15-20 minute speech ready to go – a distillation of the main themes in my book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”


Would people hear what I had to say?



I surveyed the audience. A few people I didn’t know. But there was my mom and dad, a bit more grey haired than I remembered yet doing their parental duty. There were a few colleagues from work – teachers, aides and substitutes. There were a few students standing in the back with their parents. One of my old high school buddies even showed up though he lived about a half hour away.


And there in the second row was my daughter.


For a moment, the whole world seemed to be nothing but her 9-year-old face – a mix of emotions – curiosity, nervousness, boredom.


In that moment, everything else disappeared. I had an audience of one.


I began.


It was surreal.


I spoke the words I had written weeks before, pausing to look up at the audience when I could.


Somehow I was both more and less nervous. I stumbled over parts that had caused no problems when alone. And I hit other points with more passion and purpose than ever before.


At certain points I found myself getting angry at the people behind the standardization and privatization of public education.


I rebuke these greedy saboteurs just about every week on my blog. But there was something different about putting the words on my tongue in public and letting the vibrations beat a rhythm on the ear drums of those assembled before me.


It was like reciting a spell, an incantation. And the effect was visible on the faces of those in front of me.


I glanced at my daughter, expecting her to be nagging her Pap to take her to the children’s section, but she was as entranced as the others.


And was I kidding myself or was there another emotion there? Pride?



I finished my remarks, getting a few laughs here and there. Anger and mirth in equal measure.


I thanked everyone for coming and took questions.


There were quite a bit.


Which aspect of corporate education reform was the worst?


Is there any way for parents to protect their children from standardized testing?


How has the gun debate impacted the move to privatization?


My mother even asked what alternative methods of assessment were preferable to standardized testing.


It went back and forth for a while.


When it seemed to die down, I thanked everyone for coming and said I would be there for as long as anyone would like to talk one-on-one and sign any books if people would like.


I had a line.


Thankfully, my wife brought me the nicest sharpie marker just before I got up there.


I tried to personalize as much as I could but everything seemed to be a variation on “Thanks for Coming.”


Students came up to me with huge grins. Parents asked more questions about their children. Lots of handshaking and hugs.


Teachers came up to tell me I had done a great job. Many introduced me to their kids – most itty bitty toddlers.


A former student who had already graduated got really serious and said, “It was about time someone said that.”



And it was over.


The store manager told me how many books we sold. I had no idea if that was good or bad, but he seemed well satisfied.


I packed everything up in my car and then went looking for my family.


I found them in the children’s section.


They had picked out a few books Mommy was purchasing. A really nice one about Harriet Tubman among them.


My daughter was sitting alone by a toy train set. She was worn out. It had been a long day.


“Daddy!” she said when she saw me. “You were amazing!”


And that was it.


That was all I’d needed.


She asked me about this or that from the speech. Obviously she didn’t understand the ins and outs of what I had said, but some of it had penetrated.


We talked about racism and why that was bad. We talked about what we could do to help stop it.


The rest of the time she held my hand and took me on a tour of the store.


I have hope for a better world, but if I’m honest, I’m not sure if writing this book or my activism or any of it will ever actually achieve its goal.


As ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.”


But I’ve shown my daughter where I stand.


I’ve shown her where I think it’s appropriate to stand.


I’ve shown the same to my students, my family, my community.


They’ll do with that what they will.


I just hope that one day when I’m gone, my daughter will remember what I taught her.


She’ll remember and feel my presence though I’m long gone.




Videos of the majority of my speech:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:



Nationwide Charter School Expansion Slowing Down

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Charter schools used to be seen as the hot new concept in education.


But that fad seems to have jumped the shark.


For two decades since the first charter school law was passed in Minnesota, they’ve grown at about 6 to 7 percent nationally.


But for the last three years, that growth has dropped each year – from 7 to 5 to 2 percent.




Even states that historically boasted the most growth are falling behind. Of charter powerhouses Texas, Florida, Ohio and California – only Texas has shown a significant upward trend.




So what happened?


How did the hippest new thing to hit education since the chalk board suddenly hit such a wall? After all, it wasn’t so long ago that every celebrity from Magic Johnson to Andre Agassi to Deion Sanders to Sean “Puffy” Combs to Pitt Bull had their own charter school. Even Oprah Winfrey, the queen of multimedia, donated millions to charter networks in Louisiana, California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and her home state of Illinois.


How could something with so much high profile support be running out of gas?


The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has a theory.


The charter school funded think tank (read: propaganda network) released a report boiling the issue down to three factors: real estate costs, a teacher shortage and political backlash.


Real estate costs? Yes, few public schools want to offer you public property to put your privately run school that will inevitably gobble up a good portion of its funding and turn a portion of that into profit for private investors.


Teacher shortage? Yes, when you pay your educators the least, don’t allow your employees to unionize, and demand high hours without remuneration, you tend to find it harder than most educational institutions to find people willing to work for you.


Political backlash? DING! DING! DING!


Of course, most people who aren’t paid by the charter school industry – as those working for CRPE are – would simply call this a charter school backlash – not political, at all.


This isn’t one political party seeking advantage over another. It’s concerned citizens from both sides of the aisle worried about the practices of the charter school industry.


The general public is starting to understand exactly what charter schools are and why they are a bad idea for children and society.


For instance:
-Charter schools are rarely controlled by elected school boards – they’re run by appointed bureaucrats.


-They are often run for profit –which means they can reduce services for students and pocket the savings.


-They cherry pick which students to enroll and how long to keep them enrolled – they only let in the easiest to teach and give the boot to any that are struggling before standardized testing time.


-And they very often close unexpectedly and/or are the site of monetary scandals where unscrupulous charter school operators take the money and run.


Moreover, it’s no accident that much of the criticism of charter schools comes from people of color. About one quarter of all charter school students are black, whereas black students make up only 15 percent of enrollment at traditional public schools.


To put that in perspective, approximately 837,000 black students were enrolled at charter schools during the 2016-17 school year. Yet civil rights organizations are concerned that this over-representation is having negative consequences on students of color.


The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has issued numerous criticisms of charter schools most recently calling for a moratorium on them. So has the Movement for Black Lives and the Journey for Justice Alliance.


In addition to the concerns already mentioned, civil rights advocates are concerned with the tendency of charter schools to increase racial segregation.


Seventy percent of black charter school students have few white classmates, according to a study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.


But some charters are even worse. More than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had student bodies made up of at least 99% minority students, according to an Associated Press analysis from three years ago. And it’s getting worse!


Certainly increasing segregation is a problem even at traditional public schools, but nothing like the numbers we’re seeing in the charter school sector.


Civil rights leaders know that “separate but equal” schools don’t work because when they’re separate, they’re rarely equal.


For instance, charter schools suspend students at a much higher rate than traditional public schools. Some charters suspend more than 70% of those enrolled, according to an analysis from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles.



Researchers found the situation is even more dire for minorities. Black students are four times more likely to be suspended than white students, and students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended as non-disabled students.


With all these problems dogging their heels, it’s no wonder that the charter school juggernaut is starting to lose momentum.


Instead of concentrating solely on why these schools are losing popularity, we should also ask what set them shooting off into the stratosphere in the first place.


After all, no one was really crying out for private schools run with public money.


No one, that is, except big business and greedy investors looking for a quick buck.


Since the Clinton administration, charter school investments get automatic tax credits that allow investors to double their money in as little as 7 years. Lobbying at the state and federal level by charter schools and their investors and contractors have enabled a monetary scam to enrich private industry at public expense.


Put simply, charters are not subject to the same instructional, operational, fiscal, accounting or conflict of interest rules as traditional public schools. Therefore, in most states it’s perfectly legal for a charter school operator to give his brother the instructional contract, his sister the maintenance contract and his uncle the textbook contract. He can replace the teachers with computer programs and apps, while his own privately held company rents and leases the school building at a hefty markup – all with public money.


And somehow that’s still called a “public” school.


We have to face this simple fact: Charters took off not because they were a good idea to help kids learn, but because they were an excellent way to make a lot of money off of the government. It was a way to steal money meant to help children.


What we’re seeing in terms of a backlash is just a more common realization of the motives behind charter schools echoed in the negative consequences these schools leave behind.


And in the Trump era, charter schools can’t hide behind a friendly face like Barack Obama.


The neoliberal agenda is as fervently being pushed by the right wing as the left – more so.


This slowdown may signal that people have gone beyond politics.


We don’t care what the left and the right wish to sell us. We’re not willing to buy the charter school boloney anymore. If our policymakers want to continue getting our votes, they may need to give in to what the people actually want and stop trying to lead us over the cliff and feed us to the sharks.

School Choice Week – Choosing Away Your Choice



School Choice Week is one of the greatest scams in American history.



It is a well-funded, thoroughly organized attempt to trick parents into signing away their right to make educational choices about their children.






It goes like this:



Salesman: Would you like a choice?



Parent: Sure!



Salesman: Then just agree to never have another choice again.



That’s it in a nutshell.



Choose not to choose.



When you decide to send your child to a so-called choice school – a charter or voucher institution – you lose almost every other choice about what happens at your child’s school.



Sound impossible?



Let me count the decisions you lose by signing on the dotted line.



When you send your child to a school paid for with public money but run by a private organization, you lose:



AN ELECTED SCHOOL BOARD, so you have no say about what the school does.



OPEN DOCUMENTS, so you have no right to see budgets, spending agreements, bids, contracts, etc.



OPEN MEETINGS, so you have no public place to speak up to the people who run your school.



RIGHT TO SELF-GOVERNMENT, so you have no right to run for a leadership position on the school board. Instead you’re at the mercy of appointed flunkies.



THE RIGHT OF ENROLLMENT, so school operators get to choose whether your child gets to attend, unlike public schools which have to accept your child no matter what – so long as you live in the district.



QUALITY SERVICES, so school operators can cut services for your child and pocket the savings as profit or use it to advertise to get more paying butts in seats.



QUALITY TEACHERS, because most charter and voucher schools aren’t required to hire educators with 4-year degrees, and since they don’t pay as well as public schools and often refuse to let their teachers unionize, they attract less experienced and distinguished educators.



DIVERSE CLASSMATES, because charter and voucher schools increase segregation. Your children will be educated with more kids that look just like them. That’s healthy!



And that’s merely at MOST privatized schools. But that’s not all. At some privatized schools you can lose even more! You may also lose:



COMMON SENSE DISCIPLINE POLICIES, so your children will be held to a zero tolerance discipline policy where they may have to sit quietly, eyes forward, marching in line or else face aggressive public reprimands and harsh punishments.



AN UNBIASED SECULAR EDUCATION, so your children will be taught religion and politics as if they were fact all funded by public tax dollars! Hear that sound? That’s our Founders crying.



FREE TIME, so you’ll be required to volunteer at the school regardless of your ability to do so. Gotta’ work? Tough!



MONEY, so you’ll have to pay tuition, buy expensive uniforms, school supplies or other amenities.



And if your children are struggling academically, you may also lose:



ENROLLMENT, so your child is given the boot back to the public school because he or she is having difficulty learning, and thus costs too much to educate.



You lose all that if you decide to enroll your child in a charter or voucher school!



But that’s not all!



If you DON’T decide to send your child to a so-called choice school, you can still lose choice!



Why? Because of the rubes who were fooled into give up their choice. When they did that, they took some of your choices, too.



Because of them, you still lose:



-NECESSARY FUNDING, because your public school has to make up the money it lost to charter and voucher schools somewhere, and that means fewer resources and services for your child.


-LOWER CLASS SIZES, because your public school has to fire teachers and increase class size to make up for lost revenue.



-FAIR ASSESSMENTS, because the state and federal government require your child to take unfair high stakes tests to “prove” your public school is failing and thus justify replacing it with a charter or voucher schoolas if those have ever been proven to be better, but whatever! CA-CHING! CA-CHING!



This is what you get from School Choice Week.



It’s a uniquely American experience – selling the loss of choice — as choice.



And all the while they try to convince you that public schools are the ones that take away your alternatives.



Yet public schools are where you get all those things you lose at privatized schools.



You get elected school boards, open documents, open meetings, the right to self-government, the right of enrollment, quality services, quality teachers, diverse classmates, common sense discipline policies, an unbiased secular education, free time and money! That’s right! You actually get all that and more money in your pocket!



I’m not saying public schools are perfect. There are many ways they need to improve, but it’s difficult to do so when many of the people tasked with improving these schools are more concerned with sabotaging them to make room for privatized systems.



These are paid employees of the charter and voucher school movement who want to kill public schools – BUT THE KILLER IS ALREADY IN THE HOUSE!



Imagine if we dedicated ourselves to making our public school system better!



Imagine if we committed to giving parents and students more choices in the system and not trying to replace that system with one that gives all the benefits and choices away to corporate vultures!



So, yeah, School Choice Week is a scam.



But, hey, enjoy those yellow scarfs.



Public Schools Best Fulfill Dr. King’s “Purpose of Education”



What is the purpose of education?


Is it to train the next generation of workers?


Or is it to empower the next generation of citizens?


Is it to give children the skills necessary to meet the needs of business and industry?


Or is it to provide them the tools to self-actualize and become the best people they can be?


In today’s world, our leaders continue to insist that the answer to the question is the former corporate training model. Knowledge is only valuable if it translates to a job and thus a salary.


But we didn’t always think that way.


As another Martin Luther King Day is about to dawn this week, I’m reminded of the man behind the myth, a person who clearly would deny this materialistic view of learning.


When we think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we usually think of the towering figure of the Civil Rights Movement who gave the “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington in 1963.


However, as a teacher, I find myself turning to something he wrote in 1947 when he was just an 18-year-old student at Morehouse College.


While finishing his undergraduate studies in sociology, he published an essay in the student paper called “The Purpose of Education.”


Two sections immediately jump off the page. The first is this:


“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.”


So for King it wasn’t enough for schools to teach facts. It wasn’t enough to teach skills, math, writing, reading, history and science. The schools are also responsible for teaching children character – how to be good people, how to get along with each other.


It’s a worthy goal.


But 2018 contains a far different educational landscape than 1947.


When King wrote, there were basically two kinds of school – public and private. Today there is a whole spectrum of public and private each with its own degree of self-governance, fiscal accountability and academic freedom.


On the one side we have traditional public schools. On the other we have fully private schools. And in the middle we have charter, voucher and home schools.


So which schools today are best equipped to meet King’s ideal?


Private schools are by their very nature exclusionary. They attract and accept only certain students. These may be those with the highest academics, parental legacies, religious beliefs, or – most often – families that can afford the high tuition. As such, their student bodies are mostly white and affluent.


That is not King’s ideal. That is not the best environment to form character, the best environment in which to learn about people who are different than you and to develop mutual understanding.


Voucher schools are the same. They are, in fact, nothing but private schools that are subsidized in part by public tax dollars.


Charter schools model themselves on private schools so they are likewise discriminatory. The businesses who run these institutions – often for a profit – don’t have to enroll whoever applies. Even though they are fully funded by public tax dollars, they can choose who to let in and who to turn away. Often this is done behind the cloak of a lottery, but with no transparency and no one checking to ensure it is done fairly, there is no reason to believe operators are doing anything but selecting the easiest (read: cheapest) students to educate.


Charter schools have been shown to increase segregation having student bodies that are more monochrome than those districts from which they cherry pick students. This is clearly not King’s ideal.


Homeschooling is hard to generalize. There is such a wide variety of experiences that can be described under this moniker. However, they often include this feature – children are taught at home by their parent or parents. They may or may not interact with their academic peers and the degree to which they meet and understand different cultures is variable to say the least. They may meet King’s ideal, but frankly the majority of them probably do not.


So we’re left with traditional public schools. Do they instill “intelligence plus character”?


Answer: it depends.


There are many public schools where children of different races, nationalities, religions, and creeds meet, interact and learn together side-by-side.


Students wearing hajibs learn next to those wearing yarmulkes. Students with black skin and white skin partner with each other to complete class projects. Students with parents who emigrated to this country as refugees become friends with those whose parents can trace their ancestors back to the Revolutionary War.


These schools are true melting pots where children learn to become adults who value each other because of their differences not fear each other due to them. These are children who not only learn their academics as well – if not often better – than those at competing kinds of schools, but they also learn the true face of America and they learn to cherish it.


This is the true purpose of education. This is the realization of King’s academic ideal and his civil rights dream.


However, this is not the case at every public school.


While there are many like this, there are too many that are increasingly segregated. In fact, in some areas our schools today are more segregated than they were at the time of Dr. King’s assassination.


These are schools that get the lion’s share of resources, that have the newest facilities, the widest curriculum, the most affluent clientele.


So, no, not even all public schools meet this ideal. But those that don’t at least contain the possibility of change.


We could integrate all public schools. We could never integrate our charter, voucher and private schools. That goes against their essential mission. They are schools made to discriminate. Public schools are meant to be all inclusive. Every one could meet King’s ideal, if we only cared enough to do it.


Which brings me to the second section of King’s early essay that pops off the page:


“The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.”


Seventy one years ago, King was warning us about the situation we suffer today.


When we allow academics to be distinct from character and understanding, we put ourselves at the mercy of leaders with “reason, but with no morals.”


We put ourselves and our posterity in the hands of those like President Donald Trump, the fruit of a fully private education.


Racism and privilege become the defining characteristics of a class without character, in King’s sense.


If we want to reclaim what it means to be an American, if we want to redefine ourselves as those who celebrate difference and defend civil rights, that begins with understanding the purpose of education.


It demands we defend public schools against privatization. And it demands that we transform our public schools into the integrated, equitable institutions we dreamed they could all be.

Funny How School Closings Are Merely Accidental Racism. Never Intentional.

Students Protest School Closings At Chicago Public Schools Headquarters


It’s funny. When you close schools serving minority students, they tend to move away.


That’s what’s happening in Chicago.


In the last seven years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 49 schools serving mostly students of color. And from 2015 to 2016, alone, the city lost 12,000 black residents.




Who would have ever thought that cutting funding to services for minorities might make them get up and leave?


But God forbid you suggest this is intentional!


These are just disparate facts. There is no conceivable causal link between making life intolerable for people and their leaving.


When has that ever happened before?


The Great Migration (1919-1950) when hundreds of thousands of blacks moved from the deep south to the shores of Lake Michigan looking for better opportunities?


Well, sure, but when else has that ever happened?


You can’t connect one dot to another.


That would just be rude.


Yet that’s just what Chris Kennedy, a candidate vying to run against Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner on the Democratic ticket, did this week.


He said that Emanuel is running a “strategic gentrification plan” to intentionally push black residents out of the city.


“My belief is they’re being pushed out. This is involuntary. That we’re cutting off funding for schools, cutting off funding for police, allowing people to be forced to live in food deserts, closing hospitals, closing access to mental health facilities. What choice do people have but to move, to leave?” Kennedy said at a press conference.


“And I think that’s part of a strategic gentrification plan being implemented by the city of Chicago to push people of color out of the city. The city is becoming smaller and as it becomes smaller, it’s become whiter.”



The establishment immediately pushed back against him.


The Chicago Sun-Times couldn’t find any fault with Kennedy’s facts, but they called his interpretation “irresponsible.”


Emanuel’s office likewise issued a press release likening Kennedy’s claims with those of Republicans like Rauner and President Donald Trump, even though both of those individuals would be more likely to champion a plan to kick blacks out of Chicago than criticize it.


Kennedy’s remarks simply echo what black Chicagoans have been saying for years.


FACT: Since 2001, 72 Chicago schools have been closed or phased out. Ninety percent of the students affected are black.


And now Emanuel is suggesting closing four additional schools – all from the predominantly African American Englewood community.


Sure, eventually they’ll be replaced by one new school, but only after at least a year without any high school in the area.


When the new school finally opens, the neighborhood will be less black and better suited to what? Gentrification!


Jitu Brown, National Director for a broad based collective of civil rights organizations called Journey 4 Justice, estimates that more than 30,000 people of color have fled Chicago since Emanuel took office.


Brown led a group of community members to sit in at the Chicago Board of Education today to protest the proposed closings.


“Rahm wants to close successful black grammar school to make room for upper income families! We have proof! That’s why we sit-in,” he tweeted.


Back in 2013, Brown broke down his argument at a hearing before the US Department of Education:


“To deny us the right to improve our schools as community institutions is a violation of our human rights. To destabilize schools in our community is a violation of our human rights. To have communities with no neighborhood schools is a violation of our human rights.  . . . We are America’s mirror. Do you have the courage to accept what you see?”


Kennedy really isn’t saying anything different. He’s just echoing the concerns of the community he wants to represent.


“I don’t know what you can say when the strategic plan for Chicago Public Schools suggest that the entire community of Englewood can go an entire year without access to a high school,” Kennedy said this week.


“What are you saying to the people there? No one’s going to move there who’s got a high school kid. And anybody with a high school kid has to think about what they’re going to do. It’s just a device to empty out the community.”


The problem is not limited to Chicago. It’s emblematic of public school policy nationwide.


From 2003-2012, in New York City, 117 schools were closed. Sixty-three percent of the students affected were black.


In 2008, 23 schools were closed in Washington, DC. Ninety-nine percent of the students affected were black, Latino or Hispanic.


Since 2005, in Detroit, 130 schools have been closed. Ninety-three percent of the students affected were children of color.


And one and on.


We intentionally segregate students based on race and class, then allocate funds accordingly. Richer whiter students get all the resources they need. Poorer blacker students get crumbling schools, narrowed curriculum until their schools are shuttered and they’re forced to either move away or put up with fly by night charter schools.


Look at what happened in New Orleans.


After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state took over 107 of the city’s then-128 public schools, removing them from local control of the residents. The majority of these schools were turned into charters, closed or simply never reopened – a move affecting 90 percent of black students and only 1 percent of white students.


Karran Harper-Royal, a New Orleans parent and cofounder of the national group Parents Across America, argued at the same hearing in 2013 before the US Department of Education that the result was racist.


They call it school choice, but parents don’t have choice when 80 percent attend charter schools – some of which run a lottery enrollment process, she said. As a result, parents are forced to apply to multiple charter schools to ensure their children have somewhere to go to learn.


Your choice is between charter schools – 79 percent of which are rated “D” or “F” – and 15 state run public schools that are all rated “D” or “F,” she said.


“African-American students are more likely than their white counterparts to experience schools that are at risk of being closed down, phased-out, turned around or co-located,” Harper-Royal said. “To guarantee me a seat in a failing school system is not ‘choice.’ It’s racist is what it is.”


This is the reality for poor and minority students across the country.


It’s refreshing to hear a Democrat brave enough to actually speak the truth about it – especially since Democrats have been as apt to preside over these corporate education reform policies as Republicans.


Closing black schools and keeping white ones open is not an accident.


Neither is continuing school segregation, the proliferation of charter and voucher schools and the continued insistence that the only way to hold educators accountable for actually educating is high stakes standardized testing.


These are all choices that result in winners and losers.


It’s time we recognized that. If we really want to champion civil rights and equity for all, we need to stop promoting racism as school policy and pretending to be surprised at the results.

The Different Flavors of School Segregation



The most salient feature of the United States Public School System – both yesterday and today – is naked, unapologetic segregation.


Whether it be in 1954 when the Supreme Court with Brown v. Board made it illegal in word or today when our schools have continued to practice it in deed. In many places, our schools at this very moment are more segregated than they were before the Civil Rights movement.


That’s just a fact.


But what’s worse is that we don’t seem to care.


And what’s worse than that is we just finished two terms under our first African American President – and HE didn’t care. Barack Obama didn’t make desegregation a priority. In fact, he supported legislation to make it worse.


Charter schools, voucher schools, high stakes standardized testing, strategic disinvestment – all go hand-in-hand to keep America Separate and Unequal.


In this article, I’m going to try to explain in the most simple terms I know the reality of segregation in our schools, how it got there and the various forms it takes.


I do this not because I am against public education. On the contrary, I am a public school teacher and consider myself a champion of what our system strives to be but has never yet realized. I do this because until we recognize what we are doing and what many in power are working hard to ensure we will continue doing and in fact exacerbate doing, we will never be able to rid ourselves of a racist, classist disease we are inflicting on ourselves and on our posterity.


America, the Segregated


It’s never been one monolithic program. It’s always been several co-existing parallel social structures functioning together in tandem that create the society in which we live.


Social segregation leads to institutional segregation which leads to generational, systematic white supremacy.


This is as true today as it was 50 years ago.


I’m reminded of possibly the best description of American segregation on record, the words of the late great African American author James Baldwin who said the following on the Dick Cavett Show in 1968:



“I don’t know what most white people in this country feel. But I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know we have a Christian church that is white and a Christian church that is black. I know, as Malcolm X once put it, the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday.


That says a great deal for me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and I certainly cannot trust the Christian church.


“I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me — that doesn’t matter — but I know I’m not in their union. I don’t know whether the real estate lobby has anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobby is keeping me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to.


“Now this is the evidence. You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.”



As Baldwin states, there are many different ways to keep black people segregated. There are many different flavors of the same dish, many different strains of the same disease.



We can say we’re against it, but what we say doesn’t matter unless it is tied to action.



You can say you’re in favor of equity between black and white people all day long, but if the policies you support don’t accomplish these things, you might as well wear a white hood and burn a cross on a black person’s lawn. It would at least be more honest.



Segregated Schools



In terms of public education, which is the area I know most about and am most concerned with here, our schools are indeed set up to be segregated.



If there is one unstated axiom of our American Public School System it is this: the worst thing in the world would be black and white children learning together side-by-side.



I’m not saying that anyone goes around saying this. As Baldwin might say, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how we act, and judging by our laws and practices, this is the evidence.



The sentiment seems to be: Black kids should learn here, white kids should learn there, and never the two should meet.



Our laws are explicitly structured to allow such practices. And that’s exactly what we do in almost every instance.



It’s just who we are.



So, you may ask, how can a public school teacher like myself support such a system.



The answer is that I don’t.



I support the ideals behind the system. I support the idea of a public system that treats everyone equitably.



That’s what it means to have a public system and not a private one. And that’s an ideal we would be wise to keep – even if we’ve never yet lived up to it.



Many people today are trying to destroy those ideals by attacking what exists. And they’re trying to do it, by acts of sabotage.



They point to inequalities they, themselves, helped create and use them to push for a system that would create even worse inequality. They point to the segregation that they, themselves, helped install and use it as an excuse to push even more segregation.



And they do so by controlling the media and the narrative. They call themselves reformers when they’re really vandals and obstructionists looking to subvert the best in our system in order to maximize the worst.



School Segregation Today


Sure we don’t have very many all white or all black schools like we did before Brown v. Board. Instead we have schools that are just predominantly one race or another.


ALL kids are not divided by race. Just MOST of them.


The reason?


Legally and morally absolute segregation has become repugnant and impracticable. We can’t say segregation is the law of the land and then segregate. But we can set up the dominoes that spell S-E-G-R-E-G-A-T-I-O-N and then shrug when that just happens to be the result.



Partially it has to do with housing.



White people and black people tend to live in different neighborhoods. Some of this is a choice. After a history of white oppression and racial strife, people on both sides of the divide would rather live among those with whom they identify.



Black people don’t want to deal with the possibility of further deprivations. White people fear retaliation.



However, white people generally enjoy a higher socio-economic status than black people, so there is some push back from black folks who can afford to live in whiter neighborhoods and thus enjoy the benefits of integration – bigger homes, less crowding, less crime, access to more green spaces, etc. But even when there is a desire, moving to a white neighborhood can be almost impossible.


State and federal laws, local ordinances, banking policies and persistent prejudice stand in the way.



In short, red lining still exists.



Real estate agents and landlords still divide up communities based on whom they’re willing to sell or rent to.



And this is just how white people want it.


They’re socialized to fear and despise blackness and to cherish a certain level of white privilege for themselves and their families.



And if we live apart, it follows that we learn apart.



The system is set up to make this easy. Yet it is not uncomplicated. There is more than one way to sort and separate children along racial and class lines in a school system.



There are several ways to accomplish school segregation. It comes in multiple varieties, a diversity of flavors, all of which achieve the same ends, just in different ways.



By my reckoning, there are at least three distinct paths to effectively segregate students. We shall look at each in turn:



1) Segregated Districts and Schools



When you draw district lines, you have the power to determine their racial makeup.



Put the white neighborhoods in District A and the black ones in District B. It’s kind of like gerrymandering, but instead of hording political power for partisan lawmakers, you’re putting your finger on the scale to enable academic inequality.



However, sometimes you can’t do that. Sometimes you don’t have the power to determine the makeup for entire districts. Instead, you can do almost the same thing for schools within a single district.



You just send most of the black kids to School A and most of the white kids to School B. This is easy to justify if they’re already stratified by neighborhood. In this way, geographical segregation becomes the determination for the academic variety.



In fact, this is what we usually think of when we think of school segregation. And it has certain benefits for white students and costs for black ones.



Foremost, it allows white students to horde resources.



In the first case where you have segregated districts, legislation including explicit funding formulas can be devised to make sure the whiter districts get more financial support than the blacker ones. The state provides more support and the higher socio-economics of the whiter neighborhoods provides a more robust tax base to meet the needs of white children.



That means the whiter districts get higher paid and more experienced teachers. It means they have broader curriculum, more extracurricular activities, a more robust library, more well-trained nursing staff, more advanced placement courses, etc.



And – this is important – the blacker districts don’t.



Fewer funds mean fewer resources, fewer opportunities, more challenges to achieve at the same level that white students take for granted. A budget is often the strongest support for white supremacy in a given community or society as a whole. In fact, if you want to know how racist your community is, read its school budget. You want accountability? Start there.



The same holds even when segregation is instituted not at the district level but at the level of the school building.



When the people making the decisions are mostly white, they tend to steer resources to their own kids at the expense of others. Appointed state recovery bureaucrats, school boards, and administrators can provide more resources to the white schools than the black ones.



It may sound ridiculous but this is exactly what happens much of the time. You have gorgeous new buildings with first class facilities in the suburban areas and run down crumbling facilities in the urban ones – even if the two are only separated geographically by a few miles.



This is not accidental. It’s by choice.




2) Charter and Voucher Schools



And speaking of choice, we come to one of the most pernicious euphemisms in the public school arena – school choice.



It’s not really about academics or options. It’s about permitting racism.



It’s funny. When schools are properly funded and include an overabundance of resources, few people want another alternative. But when schools are underfunded and there is a black majority, that’s when white parents look for an escape for their children.



Like any parasite, charter and voucher schools only survive in the proper environment. It usually looks like this.



Sometimes no matter how you draw the district lines or how you appropriate the buildings, you end up with a black majority and a white minority. That’s a situation white parents find simply intolerable.



White children must be kept separate and given all the best opportunities even if that means taking away the same for black children.



That’s where “school choice” comes in.



It’s not a pedagogical philosophy of how to best provide an education. It’s big business meeting the demand for parental prejudice and white supremacy.



In summary, charter and voucher schools are the mechanisms of white flight. Period.



This is why the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Movement for Black Lives have condemned school privatization. It is racism as a business model. It increases segregation and destroys even the possibility of integration.



This works in two ways.



First, it allows white kids to enter new learning environments where they can be in the majority and get all the resources they need.



White parents look for any opportunity to remove their children from the black majority public school. This creates a market for charter or voucher schools to suck up the white kids and leave the black kids in their neighborhood schools.



Once again, this creates the opportunity for a resource gap. The charter and voucher schools suck away needed funds from the public schools and then are subsidized even further by white parents.



The quality of education provided at these institutions is sometimes better – it’s often worse. But that’s beside the point. It’s not about quality. It’s about kind. It’s about keeping the white kids separate and privileged. It’s about saving them from the taint of black culture and too close of an association with black people.



Second, the situation can work in reverse. Instead of dividing the whites from the blacks, it divides the blacks from the whites.



This happens most often in districts where the divide is closer to equal – let’s say 60% one race and 40% another. Charter and voucher schools often end up gobbling up the minority students and leaving the white ones in the public school. So instead of white privatized and black public schools, you get the opposite.



And make no mistake – this is a precarious position for minority students to be in. Well meaning black parents looking to escape an underfunded public school system jump to an even more underfunded privatized system that is just waiting to prey on their children.



Unlike public schools, charter and voucher institutions are allowed to pocket some of their funding as profit. That means they can reduce services and spending on children anytime they like and to any degree. Moreover, as businesses, their motives are not student centered but economically driven. They cherry pick only the best and brightest students because they cost less to educate. They often enact zero tolerance discipline policies and run themselves more like prisons than schools. And at any time unscrupulous administrators who are under much less scrutiny than those at public schools can more easily steal student funding, close the school and run, leaving children with no where to turn but the public school they fled from in the first place and weakened by letting privatized schools gobble up the money.



The result is a public school system unnaturally bleached of color and a privatized system where minority parents are tricked into putting their children at the mercy of big business.



3) Tracking



But that’s not all. There is still another way to racially segregate children. Instead of putting them in different districts or different schools, you can just ensure they’ll be in different classes in the same school.



It’s called tracking – a controversial pedagogical practice of separating the highest achieving students from the lowest so that teachers can better meet their needs.



However, it most often results in further stratifying students socially, economically and racially.



Here’s how it works.



Often times when you have a large enough black minority in your school or district, the white majority does things to further horde resources even within an individual school building or academic department.



In such cases, the majority of the white population is miraculously given a “gifted” designation and enrolled in the advanced placement classes while the black children are left in the academic or remedial track.



This is not because of any inherent academic deficit among black students, nor is it because of a racial intellectual superiority among white students. It’s because the game has been rigged to favor white students over black ones.



Often the excuse given is test scores. Standardized tests have always been biased assessments that tend to select white and affluent students over poor black ones. Using them as the basis for class placement increases segregation in school buildings.



It enables bleaching the advanced courses and melanin-izing the others. This means administration can justify giving more resources to white students than blacks – more field trips, more speakers, more STEAM programs, more extracurriculars, etc.



And if a white parent complains to the principal that her child has not been included in the gifted program, if her child has even a modicum of ability in the given subject, more often than not that white child is advanced forward to the preferential class.






Segregation is a deep problem in our public school system. But it cannot be solved by privatization.



In fact, privatization exacerbates it.



Nor is public education, itself, a panacea. Like any democratic practice, it requires participation and the economic and social mobility to be able to participate as equals.



Schools are the product of the societies that create them. An inequitable society will create inequitable schools.



Segregation has haunted us since before the foundation of our nation.



The only way to solve it is by first calling it out and recognizing it in all its forms. Then white people have to own their role in spreading it and take steps to end it.



Segregation doesn’t just happen. It exists because white people – especially white parents – want it to exist.



They don’t want their children to be educated among black students – maybe SOME black students, maybe the best of the best black students, but certainly not the average run of the mill brown-skinned child.



This has to stop.



There are plenty of benefits even for white students in an integrated education. It provides them a more accurate world-view and helps them become empathetic and prize difference.



Moreover, nothing helps inoculate a child against racism more than a truly integrated education.



If we want our children to be better people, we should provide them with this kind of school environment.



But instead, too many of us would rather give them an unfair edge so they can do better than those around them.



Racism is not just ideological; it is economic. In a dog-eat-dog-world, we want our kids to be the wolves with their teeth in the weaker pups necks.



We need to dispel this ideal.



Our society does not need to be a zero-sum game.



We can all flourish together. We can achieve a better world for all our children when we not only realize that but prize it.



As Baldwin put it in 1989’s “The Price of a Ticket”:



“It is not a romantic matter. It is the unutterable truth: all men are brothers. That’s the bottom line.”



When that becomes a shared vision of our best selves, only then will segregation be completely vanquished.

Anti-Racism Isn’t About Making White People Feel Better



Racism is pretty strong stuff.


It’s a debilitating disease that every white American (even me) suffers from to some degree.


There is no cure.


But it can be treated.


That treatment? Anti-racism.


You don’t want to be racist? Do something to fight the system of oppression. Do something to dismantle white supremacy.


Yet too many white people – well-meaning white people – seem to think that fighting racism is really just about making themselves feel good.


Don’t get me wrong – anti-racism can exhilarate you.


Anytime you do the right thing, your body can reward you with a burst of positive feelings.


And there’s nothing wrong with that.


In fact, it’s nature’s way of positively reinforcing being true to yourself.


However, don’t for one minute conflate this good feeling into an end in itself.


Fighting racism isn’t about you or your feelings.


It’s about ending the systematic oppression of people of color.


It’s about ensuring equal rights and protections under the law.


It’s about fostering understanding and harmony between all peoples.


If that makes you feel good? Great! But that’s not why you should do it.


Some may suggest motivations don’t matter. But they do.


Our reasons for acting in certain ways have subtle effects on what we do and how we do them.


For example, a well-meaning white person might want to engage in a multi-racial discussion group on the issues of racism and prejudice.


Good idea.


But that same well-meaning white person might think a proper topic of conversation in such a group might be how difficult it is for white people to find an acceptable descriptor for black people.


Should I call them black? African American? People of color? What’s correct? No matter what I do I might get called racist. Yet black people can call each other the N-word and no one says anything.


Um. Okay. I can see how this causes confusion. Sometimes I’m uncertain if a certain descriptor will cause offense, too. But my struggle with finding the right word isn’t equivalent to black people calling each other the N-word. Nor is it an occasion to denigrate black folks for coopting a term historically used as a put down and turning it into something altogether positive and new.


The point of communication between racial groups isn’t to throw shade on their cultural norms or even to find an acceptable term with which to label each other. It’s to find ways to work together to equalize everyone’s rights.


Unarmed black folks are killed by the police at a higher rate than white folks. Black people get more severe sentences from the criminal justice system than white people for the same crimes. Children of color are more likely to go to an underfunded school than white kids.


THESE are topics worthy of discussion. These are topics around which you can organize and take action.


What would black folks like us to call them? Jeez. Just ask if you’re uncomfortable, and, white folks, don’t use the N-word. Ever.


In my experience, when you’re in the trenches together fighting racial oppression, few people question your descriptors.


And another thing. When engaged in anti-racism, don’t elevate yourself to a privileged position.


Want to have a multi-racial discussion on racism? Great. But don’t set yourself up as the moderator.


As a white person, you will never know what it’s like to be black. You may have black friends or even relatives. You may – like me – have students who you care about who suffer the effects of racial oppression right before your eyes.


But that doesn’t mean you know from the inside what it’s like.


Even if you’ve been the object of hate because of your religion, nationality, sexuality, social class or any other reason, you don’t quite know what it’s like in this context.


You can and should sympathize. You can and should feel empathy. But you are not the expert here, and you shouldn’t set yourself up as one.


Which brings me to a criticism I sometimes hear about myself: what business do white people have being engaged in this fight at all?


I’m white, after all. What gives me the right to talk about racism?


Well, first of all, it depends on who I’m talking to – who’s my audience.


I never deign to speak down to people of color about the system they live under. I’m not trying to explain oppression to the oppressed.


I’m trying to explain oppression to the oppressor.


I’m talking to white people.


And, for better or for worse, white people tend to have more of an open mind to behavioral criticism coming from another white person than if it comes from a black person.


White supremacy needs to go. White privilege needs to go. But before we can dismantle them, we can use them to aide in their own destruction.


As white allies, we can use the same system that keeps our black and brown brothers and sisters down to help raise them up.


So it’s not only acceptable for white people to address and confront other whites about racism, it is our duty to do so.


That is where we belong in this fight.


It’s not black people’s job to explain racism to white folks. It’s our job.


We must open other white people’s eyes. We must force them to confront a system in which we’re comfortable and privileged.


We must show how our comfort and privilege is unfairly hurting those who are just like us but with an abundance of melanin.


To do so requires recognition of the problem and an honest desire to help.


It requires us to be unselfish.


It requires us to be selfless.


Fighting racism may make us feel like better people, but that is not the reason we do it.


We do it because it’s the right thing to do.


We do it because we want our society to change.


We do it because we honestly care about people of color.