Black Parents protest NAACP lawsuit against New York City Charter Schools
The New York State Conference of the NAACP has joined the teachers union in a lawsuit to halt the closure of 22 failing New York City schools and to prevent 17 New York City charter schools from opening, moving or expanding. African-American parents of charter school students have responded by rallying against the NAACP’s involvement in the lawsuit. The parents are highly upset at the NAACP’s actions while the NAACP’s justification is that the charter schools are re-establishing the doctrine of separate but equal that was banned in the 1954 supreme court ruling, Brown vs. The Board of Education and that charter schools, because they use public dollars, represent an attempt to re-create separate but unequal education. They assert this even as African-American parents of charter school students are protesting against the NAACP. You can read additional details on this here.
Most issues, including this one, can rarely be seen as strictly black and white, but are in shades of grey. I think once one approaches an issue from this perspective, things can be analyzed a bit differently. It would be very easy here to dismiss the NAACP and its concerns totally. Similarly, it would be very easy to jump onto the school choice bandwagon as the sole solution to failing schools. Actually, the marketing around school choice actually leads one to that conclusion because any other possible solution has been excluded.
Let’s address the NAACP first. It’s clear to me that the NAACP is basically an organization struggling for relevance and that’s been the case for the past several years. Due to this, it’s basically been reduced to an organization that’s merely called upon to lend a “veneer of diversity” to someone else’s issues. We saw this in the marijuana legalization attempt in California when the state NAACP jumped in bed with financier and legalization advocate George Soros and called marijuana legalization a civil rights issue. In that instance too, it riled some in the African-American community. Here, the teacher’s union apparently needs some help, so the NAACP has been co-opted to jump on their bandwagon. Ironically, in its desperate search for relevance, the NAACP is finding itself becoming attached to issues that reinforce its irrelevance. There are several problems with the NAACP of which their irrelevance is a symptom. First and foremost among the NAACP’s problems is the fact that it’s lacks what I refer to an entrepreneurial vision of where it needs to be and how it will get there. The marketplace always determines relevance and it is not tied to its marketplace mainly because its major funding sources don’t come from the African-American community. If they were more reliant on the African-American community for funding, they’d be forced to ensure that the issues they pursue are indeed aligned to the concerns of black folks generally. If this were the case, there’d be no need for any quid pro quo with folks like George Soros, unions and etc. As a matter of fact, if they were more entrepreneurial in their thinking, they’d be on the forefront in coming up with practical solutions for failing schools and perhaps included in that would be the creation of an alternative to charter schools or even running one of them. The measure of a weak organization is one where it feels it has no alternative other than to jump on someone else’s bandwagon rather than actually leading on an issue. It doesn’t have to be that way and due to the lack of its own bandwagon, the NAACP is being positioned to take a huge public relations hit in its own backyard and the sad thing about it is that they don’t even realize it. There’s a fight to fight, but they happen to be fighting the wrong one for the wrong reasons. Both the NAACP and the African-American parents protesting against them are pawns on a chessboard neither has a full appreciation of.
School choice is really the same march towards privatization that has characterized the rest of the economy. Private interests see an opportunity to grab some public dollars, strip out some costs and generate profits. There are no net savings for the tax paying public. The money that would otherwise go to public schools is being diverted to private profit making institutions and for this to work for them, they’ve got to break the teacher’s unions. As I understand it, the incorrigible students with the behavior problems are too “costly” to take, so they remain mired in the public system while they take the cream of the crop, so to speak, in whatever school choice platform that happens to be operable. So the best students are simply taken, tax dollars are taken and teacher unions are busted in what amounts to a sort of financial arbitrage using the public coffers.
This has been brought to us by the same so called “free market thinkers” who brought us the wave of deregulation that has put the country in the leaky economic boat it currently sits. In their minds, there’s a free market solution to everything that under the sun, but the jury is in—we’ve seen that free unfettered markets are merely a cover to extract profits while at the government trough. It’s this philosophy that lies at the very root of school choice. Hence, the NAACP’s error in simply casting this as a strictly racial issue, when it is actually an economic one centered on a bankrupt philosophy, paints them in a corner and limits the debate and their effectiveness. Racial issues in America have always been about economics and economic exploitation and this is where the battle lies. To merely characterize the situation on the basis of it being a a racial grievance alone misses the point and until the perspective expands to the entirety of the system, of which racism is just one aspect, effectiveness in addressing the situation is necessarily limited.
When I hear people who I know don’t give a tinker’s damn about conditions in the African-American community push vouchers as a “solution” for failing schools, my suspicions are immediately aroused. There’s a lot of stuff failing in the African-American community, so why are “you” just so worried about the schools? Here’s what I know—unless a people, in this case black folks, assume full charge of their problems and the paths to solve them, they become merely a part of someone else’s agenda. In this case, the agenda is simply about making money under the guise of solving a problem. I should hasten to mention here that the flip side of privatization that directly impacts the African-American community are those who’ve built and run the private jails. Hence, once again, we see that our failure as African-Americans to find solutions to the problems that ail us means that someone else’s solutions find us. And once those solutions find us, it’s too late to protest.
I hate to see us get played and this constantly occurs without our awareness, but those forces arrayed against us and seeking to take advantage of the conditions that exist have done their homework. Although most in the African-American community (and most people generally) are totally unaware of this, the situation in the community is studied quite heavily often with a view towards exploiting the conditions that exist. The primary condition that sets this up is the level of political, social and economic chaos that frequently exists. When those conditions are combined with ineffective or non-existent leadership, those with nefarious intent find it’s easy to shape and mold an agenda that suits them. Leadership, true representative leadership, is always the bulwark against this sort of thing. Because that is missing, there’s no bulwark against gangs, drug dealers, politicians on the take, failing schools, financial arbitragers and “free market” activists seeking profits. Anything goes because there’s no one who can say no. There’s no bulwark to protect the community, its children, its families and etc from various forces within and without that bring harm. That’s the cost of the lack of independent leadership.
What is independent leadership? One can’t have independence unless there’s exists financial independence. That’s not necessarily a measure of how much in terms of economic resources one has so much as a measure of where it comes from. Why is it that it seems that so much of African-American leadership comes from the church? Some would argue that this is so because we’re a religious people, but I have different take on that. Our leadership has been dominated by pastors and the like mainly because these guys are among the rare breed with an income actually tied to the African-American community and all things being equal, there’s more of a link of accountability. This works similarly with black business people or anyone else in a situation where their income is derived from a particular community combined with a genuine interest in the betterment of that community. This is a key structural link that is missing in most black communities.
There’s a fundamental difference when a community has an economic link to those who’d represent them. I’d argue very strongly that if you’re not “paying” for representation, you really don’t have it. If someone else is paying for someone to represent you, then it should be abundantly clear that they’re accountable to whoever pays them. How can you exert control over someone who purports to be working on your behalf when you did not pay them? Let’s keep that in mind and raise this question—think of every major civil rights organization, activist, politician and etc. and ask yourself where do they get their money? Ask yourself if you didn’t pay them, who did? Once you understand the funding, you will come to understand that we’re mostly not represented and because black folks don’t control the funding, we don’t control the issues pursued even if they ostensibly appear to be “black issues”. This is so because those who control the funding can also manipulate someone against his own interests. Once the lack of economic independence and/or our lack of control over the very institutions that purport to “represent us” is linked to the conditions that exist within African-American communities, you will come to understand why there’s no bulwark against the various maladies that are imposed or the free market activists pretending to bring gifts when all they’re doing is extracting profits from the problems. Those who seek to exploit the situation within the African-American community have a full understanding of this dynamic even as many of us lack an appreciation of the same. Again, economic independence is not about “how much” but rather about “from where”. It’s the latter that indicates control.
Tracing the money is always the litmus test that has to be applied to almost anything. Once one does that, you understand motivations and accountabilities.
Above I say that the NAACP has a fight to fight, but that it’s engaged in the wrong one. Actually, this is not just their fight alone, but a challenge for all of us. The battle lines are right in the African-American community. The best minds need to turn inward and determine what it is that we can do to address some of the issues within. Just that mere step alone, even if solutions are partial, would represent a sea change that would be noticed by all observers. That would be the start of the leadership bulwark that’s sorely needed. However, there’s one major thing that has to be taken into account. There are clear vested economic interests in the current conditions and a social or political movement intent on altering the conditions will impact those interests negatively. Proponents of school choice will be hurt by public schools succeeding. Drug dealers, and those behind them, will be hurt by the lack of sanctuary. Private prison contractors will be hurt by a growing number of politically and socially conscious people. The list goes on and on, but one must appreciate that there are two economic sides of the conditions that exist in African-American communities. The conditions of social and political mayhem are both a source of economic destruction and profits. Those with profits tied to the existing conditions will resist any changes. That makes this a battle as tough as anything seen during the civil rights struggles and that fact must be appreciated before it’s joined. The bottom line is that those most directly impacted by the problems in the African-American community must be the ones coming up with the innovations to resolve them otherwise ground is ceded to those who seek to impose a solution from without. School choice represents a solution from without.