Print this page
Friday, 16 May 2014 06:34

Are Charter Schools in New Orleans the 2014 Version of Plantation Education?


peduc(Photo: Sean MacEntee)

In an Op-Ed published in Time this week, 16-year-old Kenyatta Collins argues that the education that she receives in a New Orleans charter school more closely resembles a prison than a place that advances her knowledge and creativity.

"Is my high school, Lake Area New Tech, a prison or school?" Collins asks. Her response is a withering indictment of the white elite push to privatize education:

Students arrive ready for school every morning, but unfortunately must wait outside the building until security guards unlock the doors at 7:30 a.m. It could be raining, hailing, or sleeting, but they will NOT open the doors until then. Once the doors are unlocked, it takes the guards 15 to 20 minutes to search each student and check for uniform violations. That leaves us with just a few minutes to eat breakfast before class starts at 8 a.m. That’s not enough time for 600 students to make it through the cafeteria line. On a typical morning, we are treated like prisoners, which causes students to react in a variety of negative ways.

As for the prevailing attitudes among many whites - and some wealthy people of color - that discipline is the cure for presumed violent and economically depressed urban areas - Collins has a response: 

Many students here are exposed to drugs or violence or at least witness something of the kind. Although I have had no personal involvement in either, I often witness drug transactions on the streets. Some people think the violence and drugs make the rules even more necessary to make sure students don’t engage in such activities. Wrong! If you treat students like prisoners, they will react like prisoners.

Collins is making the case that one of the results New Orleans charter schools achieve is preparing young people of color for the "school to prison pipeline," an argument that patronizing wealthy whites and profiteering corporations often imply about public schools.

Admittedly, this is the case for an incalcuable number of young people of color who are margianlized in some public schools because administrators or teachers find it easier to criminalize rowdy or agitated behavior (often caused by being exposed to violence in economically-abandoned urban areas.) This is a harsh violation of civil liberties, as the ACLU points out:

The ACLU is committed to challenging the "school to prison pipeline," a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished and pushed out.

A solution is needed, Collins makes the case that charter schools do not provide one: "My school is not alone. The charter schools that have opened in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina are beyond strict. The rigid discipline structures that have been placed inside these schools are not effective."

From the beginning of the charter school movement (and organizations such as Teach for America), there has been the strong whiff of "benevolent" racism.  This is something akin to the zeal missionaries had during the great European colonization of indigenous populations that lasted for nearly 500 years: convert the locals into a "civilized" population (in the case of missionaries this came through accepting Christ).

As Collins writes:

Most of the administrators working in the schools I have attended are white and not from Louisiana. This makes me think back to the beginning of the United States when the Native Americans were being “Americanized” by white Europeans. The white people made the Native Americans convert to their religion, stop speaking their native language, stop wearing their traditional clothing, and change their names to “American”and “Christian” ones. They even had to start wearing their hair like the white people wore theirs. I see a similar process happening in schools with all of these stringent rules, which leads me to the question: Are we being trained for the professional world or for the white world? Or does being a professional mean being part of the white world?

This gets to the heart of the matter. 

There is no place for contemporary plantation education in our schools.  

What many well-off and philanthropic promoters of charter schools (think Bill and Linda Gates) basically have as a mindset is: the economic problems and "underperforming" public schools are due to the public educational system not preparing students of color for the white person's world.   

When you think about it, what kind of school did the people who promote privatization of education go to, because that is a theory that is about as dumb and racially condescening as one can find.

It also does not get to the root economic and social problems of vast swaths of urban areas that have been economically neglected for decades.  Much of it is due to the subconscious legacy of racial stereotyping and smug white savior attitudes.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission