At this point, it seems like everyone agrees what “education reformer” means. The phrase conjures Teach for America: messianic, white Ivy Leaguers wearing thick-rimmed glasses and speaking in questions, or the Maggie Gyllenhaal vehicle “Won’t Back Down.” For some, the hallowed education reformer battles the forces that are reluctant to change — which, in too many minds, looks like black and brown families under the hallucinogenic spell of labor unions, unwittingly fighting against their own interests.
This is ludicrous. There’s not quite yet an internecine war within the current crusade, but black education reformers are beginning to revolt. A group of us convened on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education this month to identify the most pressing challenges in the reform movement — and to reclaim the brand and identity of “reformer.”
Let’s stipulate that, yes, change is badly needed. Call it “reform” if you like: Charter schools, curriculum changes (Common Core), testing, and accountability are not inherently bad things. They can bring justice.
But let’s also stipulate that overwhelmingly white movements pursuing change for black and brown communities are inherently paternalistic. The great educator Benjamin E. Mays famously said, “I would rather go to hell by choice than to stumble into heaven.” Reform is being done to communities of color. That’s why saying you’re a black education reformer effectually elicits charges of “acting white” from black communities. (Washington Post)