The traditional school of thought
ONE OF the reasons I fight so hard for traditional public schools is simply that I believe in what they can be. I believe in their potential, just like I believe in the potential of every single student that walks through the doors each morning. And why d
ONE OF the reasons I fight so hard for traditional public schools is simply that I believe in what they can be. I believe in their potential, just like I believe in the potential of every single student that walks through the doors each morning. And why do I believe? It's personal: I'm a proud graduate of Philadelphia's neighborhood schools. As an African-American male and a lifelong Philadelphia resident, my success was not because I "picked myself up by my bootstraps." My schools were places of learning. Of inquiry. Of growth. At West Philadelphia High School, I had my choice of 5 languages to study.
And so the pain that I see on the faces of children, of teachers, of parents when they learn that their school is "failing" and proposed for closure or charter turnaround is gut wrenching. Wister, Cooke, and Huey need help. But the help they need is not the help they are slated to get. Instead of truly investing in the traditional neighborhood school, the SRC last week, in a complete mockery of a public meeting, made it known loud and clear that they prefer to engage in back-door dealings and conniving bait and switch maneuvers.
What took place at the January 21st School Reform Commission meeting was theatrical at best and rooted in deep manipulation at worst. And ultimately, those who are shortchanged? The children.
The entire scenario seems to have been largely orchestrated by the Philadelphia School Partnership and its political allies.
Mark Gleason's testimony helped clarify his intentions. He brought up Flint, Mich. And he claimed that folks in Flint were "trying to do the right thing" and "trying to save money." And it struck me at just how much his organization embraces the savior mentality-if only "these communities" or "these people" did x, y, and z they would succeed. They look for model minorities who've lifted themselves up by their boot straps despite the odds. And they use those stories - the ones that tug at your heart strings - to prove that their deeply divisive and flawed system of school'reform' is what children need.
At 10 o'clock at night, after hours of contentious public testimony, in an auditorium engineered to pit parents against each other, Commissioner Simms dropped a bombshell. In a shameless and underhanded act, Simms introduced a resolution that enabled Mastery - who stacked the room with parents to whom they'd provided free dinner, t-shirts, and talking points - to swoop in and "save" Wister.
You won't find Mark Gleason urging school conversions in wealthier, predominantly white communities. Because the schools there are funded, and are able to flourish accordingly. Because the conversations around school reform, around the narrative of starve and punish, around blaming educators-is simply not one that takes place in wealthier communities.
I do not begrudge a single one of the parents who spoke last Thursday on either side of the issue. Whether for a Mastery conversion or not, I truly believe that every parent at the meeting was there because of a deep-seeded belief that their child, their most precious asset, deserves the world.
Where I do question intention is with the system that allowed the meeting, its backdoor bombshell, and its theatrics to take place. Our work as a union is grounded in the belief that a neighborhood school is the hub of a community and must be heard, recognized, celebrated, and funded.
My intentions in fighting for traditional public schools are genuine. Because I believe that with the right supports, the children at Wister, at Huey, at Cooke, can grow up to be our future scientists, doctors, Oscar winners, Nobel Prize winners, teachers, and every day heroes.
Shame on the SRC for giving up and giving in. Shame.
Jerry T. Jordan is president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers