The education-reform movement is too white to do any good

By | June 3, 2014

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)

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  • LDFox

    The Freedmen’s Bureau May 31, 1868

    I have visited the schools throughout the district, and
    while I find the teachers attentive, earnest and energetic in the discharge of
    their duties, I find parents taking little interest in the schools, not
    visiting them, even when work does not detain them at home.

    At present the scholars are few in number, all children who are able are being kept at home to work the crops. They send in no money to assist in educating
    their children, but considerable cash was poured from their pockets into the
    hands of a Circus Company, which passed through Darlington-Florence and
    Timmonsville, about the first of the month.

    The Freed people of all ages were in ecstasies, were bound to “see the show” so their pockets were drained of cash which should have found its way into the hands of school teachers, or been expended in purchasing food. According to
    instructions, I am distributing supplies largely to colored men who have rented
    lands.