Thursday, September 08, 2011

There are moments in time when you realize you've been living in what has become messy, uncomfortable history, whether it has affected you to your soul or not.

I had one of those on reading Kristen Buras' "Race, Charter Schools, and Conscious Capitalism" article from the most recent issue of the Harvard Educational Review. Subtitled "On The Spatial Politics Of Whiteness As Property (And The Unconscionable Assault On Black New Orleans)," I found it to be a useful account of the advent of charter schools in New Orleans, dating from the mid-1990's, when Cecil Picard got SB 1305 passed allowing charter schools to operate on a trial basis in some Louisiana school districts, up to the present day's near-charterization of the New Orleans public schools. Amid all the analysis of perception vs. reality in how school "choice" has been faring down here (including a scathing portrait of the Cowen Institute), Buras throws in this bit of tit-for-tat that goes on whenever today's education reformers want their critics to put up or shut up:
Notably, while charter school advocates frequently refer to fraud that predated current reforms, there is much less talk about the fraudulent manner in which the schools were taken over or the ways in which their charterization enables the channeling of public monies into private hands through "legal" means.
Can't think of a better way to describe what one goes through as a critic of the current operations of the "system of schools." The in-your-face paralysis that comes upon me when someone, in a move to shut me down, asks me if I simply want things to go back to the bad old days of OPSB corruption and mismanagement when all I want is some consideration of what still isn't being done with regard to making our schools better is hurtful. Perhaps it's a reaction that comes as part and parcel of being in a city full of people looking for agency. I look at the policy ecology diagram of the New Orleans public schools embedded in Buras' article, however, and it's amazing how many cooks are jostling for position in the local public education kitchen. That's a hell of a lot of agency that could use some organization, a kitchen nightmare in major need of some Gordon Ramsay-type help. The fact that a large number of those cooks have an "oft-repeated exultation" (Buras' term) trumpeting their lack of experience in education is worrisome. The fact that critics can be dismissed as pressing agendas of their own is too cruel.

To be sure, no one's an angel here. On seeing The Lens' latest project monitoring charter schools through their boards' monthly meetings, which are subject to the state's open meetings laws, charter critic Dr. Lance Hill took aim at The Lens' news editor Jed Horne for some work he did for the Cowen Institute. What The Lens is trying to do is long overdue, and the decisions made concerning the coverage of the charter boards' meetings are being made independently of what Horne thinks (he was in attendance at the unveiling of the site devoted to the charters). But hey, it's good to know in case he decides to become another Walter Isaacson. The least we can all do is support The Lens' efforts in this area, because we can only benefit from knowing what goes on, despite the assurance that community participation is greater than ever because of the large numbers of charter school boards in operation (forget that the boards were not elected by the communities they serve).

What I do know is that these wrongs continue to be inflicted on veteran teachers, new-to-the-maligned-profession teachers, parents, and the children in the public schools here. School choice, in practice, is a sick joke designed to drive families either out of their minds, into bankruptcy to pay for quality elementary and secondary education, or out of the system of schools - and possibly out of New Orleans - entirely, and it comes down the hardest on the lower, poorer classes. This hurts all of us dearly in the long run, and yet, to paraphrase Abraham Joshua Heschel, all it takes for us to ignore possible miracles and good works is for us to put our hands in front of our eyes and see nothing. I'm damned tired of being hemmed in by the blindness of those who profess to be in charge.

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