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BOARDWATCH: What Would the 'Father of Black History Month' Say About School Closings?

[Editor's Note. The following remarks were delivered to the Chicago Board of Education's February 27, 2013 meeting by the author. She presented the Board with a summary of what she wrote below because members of the public, even those who have more experience and credentials in actual Chicago education, only get two minutes to speak at Board meetings -- assuming they can rush to sign in quickly enough each month].

To: Members of the Chicago Board of Education February 27, 2013

From: Bonita Robinson

RE: What Would the “Father of Black History Month” Say About School Closings?

Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?

Expediency asks the question – is it politic?

Vanity asks the question – is it popular?

But conscience asks the question – is it right?

And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.

-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bonita Robinson speaking to the February 27, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Happy Black History Month. My name is Bonita Robinson and today I pose the question, “What would Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the ‘Father of Black History Month’ and the author of the classic, The Mis-education of the Negro, say about CPS school closings?”

Well, it would take no time at all for him to see through the smoke and mirrors, and to expose your attempt to justify the annihilation of Black neighborhood schools as a bold, arrogant embodiment of the diabolical mis-education that he warned about in his writing.

Then he would refute your faulty justification for closing schools with data from noted Stanford researcher, Linda Darling-Hammond, the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR), the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that indicate that there was a dramatic national narrowing of the Black/White achievement gap in the twenty years immediately preceding the advent of this practice of closing schools and a dramatic widening of the gap in the twenty years since the advent of the practice of closing schools, with CCSR researchers suggesting school closings as a cause of this negative development.

He would go on to cite data from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) that indicate the decimation of the number of African American teachers in CPS; he would also cite the public testimony of teachers who have told of how classrooms that were once warm and motivating have been transformed into cold and brutal testing mills due to your “reform” policies; and, he would cite numerous newspaper headlines proclaiming the violence and fear enveloping our students since CPS began closing schools. After presenting all of the data that demonstrate CPS’s culpability in the sabotage of neighborhood schools in Black communities he would pose the following questions as part of his indictment of CPS’s actions:

1. CPS, - After the dramatic national narrowing of the Black/White achievement gap in the twenty years prior to your practice of closing neighborhood schools and opening charter schools, how do you account for continuing this practice given the subsequent widening of that gap under this type of urban school “reform?”

Answer: Mis-education – Greed – Institutional Racism.

2. CPS, - How do you account for perpetrating a “War on the Poor” by redirecting public funds to your corporate allies, that, during the “War on Poverty,” went directly to programs for students?

Answer: Mis-education – Greed – Institutional Racism.

3. CPS, - How do you account for the inequitable displacement of numerous

dedicated, competent, and highly qualified African American teachers, many of whom were, ironically, at the helm of classrooms during the narrowing of the achievement gap? How did you not see their worth and the detrimental effects of their loss?

Answer: Mis-education – Greed – Institutional Racism.

4. CPS, - How do you account for transforming motivating learning environments which once were sending our students on a sure trajectory of success into toxic

testing sweatshops that have been accompanied by twenty years of stagnation of academic growth?

Answer: Mis-education – Greed – Institutional Racism.

5. CPS, - How do you account for the closing of schools when the mostly Black and low-income communities that have been the targets of these closings have also been the most adversely affected by trauma and violence since these closings began?

Answer: Mis-education – Greed – Institutional Racism.

6. CPS, - How do you account for crafting false narratives of school “failure” and

“underutilization,” when all the time it has been you, over the past twenty years, who have failed the students, depriving them of resources and underutilizing their teachers’ skills and talents, by mandating that they act as mere test givers, test monitors and test graders, - and it has been you who has held out carrot sticks leading to well-resourced charter schools, drawing down the populations of neighborhood schools?

Answer: Mis-education – Greed – Institutional Racism.

7. CPS, - How do you account for implementing low-quality community engagement that, on Sherry Arnstein’s “Ladder of Citizen Participation,” registers at Level 3, “Nonparticipation” and at Level 2, “Tokenism,” when authentic progress demands that the community be engaged at Level 1, “Citizen Power,” which connotes partnership, not the subordination, placation and manipulation that have characterized the structure of the civic engagement you have implemented thus far?

Answer: Mis-education – Greed – Institutional Racism.

Dr. Woodson would not conclude the indictment until he had expressed profound disappointment in the role that CPS members of the “talented tenth” - (Given that the “talented tenth” were supposed to represent the “best and the brightest,” Dr. Woodson was disappointed in successful Black professionals who assisted in the oppression of the disenfranchised and in the discrediting of those who went to their aid.) - have played in executing this failed experiment. I am also certain that he would harshly address the deafening silence of the religious, social, political and civil rights organizations that have sat idly by while what might justifiably be referred to as the Tuskegee Experiment of the twenty-first century was being conducted on our children.

Since Dr. Woodson is not physically here today, I conclude by asking CPS, in his place:

CPS, - How do you justify your intention to continue the practice of closing neighborhood schools and opening charter schools, - a practice that not only has not helped our students and school community, but has caused them unconscionable harm? Any plans made for our children must first address the question of your culpability in the widening of the academic gap that had previously been steadily narrowing and of your culpability in the destabilization, violence and loss in Black communities since you began the practice of closing schools.

No more school closings. We must return to the closing of the gap in stable, nurturing and well-resourced learning environments. There is no place in our children’s lives for mis-education, greed or institutional racism.

[Bonita Robinson, a recently retired reading specialist, was awarded the Illinois Governor’s Master Teacher Award while teaching at the Austin community’s Duke Ellington School during the era of the narrowing of the achievement gap.]



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