The New York City teachers union, United Federation of Teachers (UFT), has sued to block the city from opening 20 more charter schools. USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham is calling the NAACP’s support for the lawsuit “revolutionary,” and is throwing his support behind their revolution.
Wickham says that the disproportionate number of African Americans in New York’s charter schools (they make up only 30% of New York City’s 1 million public school students, but 60% of the students in the city’s 125 charter schools) is due to the fact that black parents see the charter schools as the only way out of their low performing neighborhood schools. Quoting Albert Memmi, he criticizes this exodus to charter schools as a revolt that can only bring about reforms, when what is needed is a revolution “to wipe out a system of oppression.”
Wickham argues that public school systems oppress black children more than they educate them. When parents demand better, they get charter schools, essentially “a way to vent their anger, not fix the problem.” What makes the NAACP perspective revolutionary, according to Wickham, is that it wants New York to improve all of its schools, and not just provide an “escape hatch” for 4% of the City's schoolchildren.
Of course USA today is not really a left wing paper, far from it. And Wickham has no idea what he’s talking about. Schools oppress all children, not just black ones. The testing mania is oppressive to all students, as is the use of bells to control movement and bodily functions. Indeed, the entire reason for public education is to maintain the oppressive relationship between the ruling class and the masses. It does this by providing just enough basic skills and knowledge for poor children to work efficiently and dutifully in the factories and offices, and for wealthy children to manage them, but not enough for any children to ever question this relationship. Consider how different our society might be if social studies courses glorified labor history and strikes, rather than free markets and capital acquisition.
On the other hand, we could cut Wickham a little slack. After all, he is criticizing the charter obsession and supporting equity in educational outcomes. Even so, the lawsuit, like parental support for charter schools, is really just an expression of frustration, and has no hope of really improving education outcomes, though it will slow down the charter school juggernaut, which is a good thing. This is because what makes a bad school bad is not its abuse of testing, emphasis on rote memorization, stifling of curiosity, or strict disciplinary procedures. Bad schools are considered bad because they have low graduation rates and test scores, something that will occur at any school with a large population of lower income students, regardless of the curriculum and pedagogy. If the goal is to improve test scores and graduation rates, then reducing poverty must be a major part of the reform. In fact, learning, critical thinking, creativity and enjoyment of learning will all improve, too, if poverty can be eliminated.