Saturday, May 23, 2015

Newark: The Civil Rights Lie

Friday, the students of Newark took to the streets. Thousands of students. Students from many different schools within the city. They took to the steps of City Hall, and then they moved to shut down the main drag. And unlike a previous protest in Newark, this one resulted in actual press coverage. In addition to coverage from Bob Braun, who has covered the story in Newark faithfully, the walkout was also covered in the "regular" media here and here.

As always, the students' actions were thoughtful, measured and positive. Their message was vocal and clear. Accountability for superintendent Cami Anderson (skewered in one sign as "$cami"). A return to local control. And end to charter takeover of schools that have no need of takeover.

Imagine you are someone thinking, "I believe that equitable education is the civil rights issue of our era. I believe that students who are not wealthy and not white are not represented and their needs are not respected. I am concerned that without test results, these students will become invisible."

Could you possibly have stood in Newark and said, "Boy, I just wish there were some way to find out what black families and students want, or what they think about the direction of education in Newark."

And yet, per*, the district had this to say:

"While the District supports our students' right to express their opinions and concerns, we cannot support these actions when they disrupt the regular instructional day," Parmley said in the statement. "The District remains committed to broadening opportunities for Newark's students through expanded learning time and through creating additional professional development opportunities for teachers."

Right. The district remains committed to doing everything except actually listening to their students. They will tell students what they need. They will tell students what they want.

Reports indicate that throughout the district, principals followed a directive to shut the student voices down by any means necessary. Hold lockdowns in the schools. Run long assemblies. Make phonecalls to threaten families with consequences (no prom, no graduation) should a student walk out. In other words-- make sure that those students are neither seen nor heard.

This is the opposite of listening. This is the opposite of making sure students have their civil rights. This is the opposite of treating members of the community as valued partners. This is the opposite of making sure all students are visible.

I am waiting. I am waiting for any of the reformsters who are so deeply concerned about the civil rights issue of the era, who are so concerned that some students might become invisible without certain policies in place, who are so worried that black students will not be heard-- I am waiting for any of those reformsters to speak up and say, "Hey! You have a perfect opportunity in Newark to talk to the people we're all concerned about, people who are clearly motivated by a passion and concern for education and schools. This was the perfect chance to talk to exactly the people we're concerned about, and you blew it. Cami Anderson should get out there and talk to them. Now." I am waiting to hear that.

Reformsters repeatedly claim that they are most concerned about American students like the students of Newark. The students of Newark have given them a chance to put their money where their mouths are, and reformsters have stayed silent. Cami Anderson remains unwilling to so much as talk to the students of Newark, and no leading "reform" voice has stepped up to call her out.

Newark is a clear and vivid demonstration that reformster talk about civil rights and the importance of hearing and responding to the voices of students and families-- it's all a lie. In walking out, the students of Newark have stood up, not just for their own community and schools, but for students and communities all across the country.

* also included a completely egregious piece of reporting, noting that several students ran into a Rite-Aid and then later cops were at the Rite-Aid, so of course their reporter asked if there had been looting. Police replied there had been no reports of looting-- so there was nothing to report, and yet this business took up a full paragraph. I suppose it could have been worse-- they could have called the students "thugs."


  1. It's interesting the mayor and most of the school board, including the president, are on the side of the students.

  2. I assume your reference to "thugs" is also a takeoff of Cami Anderson's letter to Newark parents which said that if their kids were given two days off from school for the N.J. Teachers' Convention, they would get into trouble, take drugs, etc. The lack of respect for Newark's students comes both from Cami's attitude towards them from Day 1 of her administration as well as from the local media which, until this past demonstration which was literally impossible to ignore, has avoided reporting on their actions and ignored their pleas to publicize what Anderson is doing to their schools.