So I initially wrote this piece for a local news outlet as an op-ed, but the editor will not publish it unless I add someone else to the piece as a co-writer for added legitimacy. The problem is, I do not currently live in Newark, however it was decided that including a current Newarker would make it more legitimate. There is so much wrong with this here, that I am not sure where to start. It is beyond me why anyone would think it would be okay to volunteer my piece, my own intellectual property as a co-authored piece especially if the person was not involved in the writing of it. As a black woman I find myself having to assert my humanity in places and situations where I would not expect. It leads me to question how many folks are allowed to submit pieces about Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, Camden or any other urban district they have absolutely no personal connection to beyond speaking “for” these places. Therefore, I decided to just publish it here on my blog and just hope my personal friends read and share. Please enjoy!
If you have been paying any attention to the education news in New Jersey, then you know that unrest and resistance have been brewing and percolating between parent and student groups throughout the city of Newark. From parent boycotts, student shutdowns, federal Title VI complaints against the district, and legal injunctions filed with the State, they are all proof of the care and dedication that the people of Newark have for their city, their children, and their future. These actions, all planned separately, were choral acts of lamentations and cries to anyone who would listen and hear their grievances against Governor Christie’s and State-appointed Superintendent, Cami Anderson’s One Newark Plan.
The violence of having the voices and concerns of the community dismissed, and even scorned is what pushed the parents and organizers from Parents Unified for Local School Education (PULSE) to organize NPS Boycott 4 Freedom, and the Newark Students Union to coordinate a two-day action during the second week of school. NPS Boycott 4 Freedom wanted to accomplish four things from its action: 1). local control of Newark Public Schools; 2). an immediate halt to the One Newark Plan; 3). the termination of Cami Anderson; and 4). the push for community driven neighborhood schools. Although none of those things happened, the audacity we had to make this happen helped us develop relationships with more parents, and local and national organizations.
It may be hard to see what the full impact of the One Newark Plan, and other corporate, educational interventions will have on the students and the community of Newark. However, one thing is certain, the One Newark Plan has disrupted the community. Several schools have been closed throughout the district, with the South Ward getting hit the hardest. The very idea of a neighborhood school no longer exists for most of the Newark students. Consequently, the plan forces many students and parents to travel long distances just to get an education. One parent reported the district would not provide transportation for her six year old child, however would provide the young child with a bus pass. The problem with this is the district does not provide the adult who will need to accompany these young children with a bus pass. How does that work? What if a parent does not have the financial means to pay the bus fare? Does the district expect my children to ride the bus alone? So, if compulsory schooling says I should potentially put my child in harms way by riding the bus alone to attend school, then that is a system to which we cannot even trust our children’s education. They are not only incompetent, but they have no regard or respect for our bodies or lives.
The narrative that organizers of this September’s boycotts or actions against Governor Christie’s education policies were defending the status quo shows how little opponents are listening and could not be furthest from the truth. It is important to be clear about where PULSE stands. PULSE wants to see change in the schools, and within the district. We are advocating restorative justice to help prevent student push-out. We want wrap-around services to fit the diverse needs of the student population. We want culturally responsive curricula, and democratically run schools that acknowledges, engages, and values the dignity of voice in each person in the school community. We want research-based curricula and instructional practices that will give students the freedom to become critical thinkers and self-regulated learners. There is one thing many on both sides of the issue can agree on: the schools and students in the city of Newark need educational change and intervention. However, One Newark and other corporate top-down interventions are not the answers.
One cannot support the efforts that push to strip Newark students of resources and funding for their schools and say they support educational equality and equity for all. We live in a country that tells us equality and democracy are our values. Nonetheless, our country’s actions show us that they do not value democracy when black and Latinx students and parents are the majority of the district. Why aren’t the parents in Newark allowed the same democratic voice that parents and students in districts like Millburn, Livingston, Mendham, and Florham Park would receive? Does their race afford them more dignity, more respect, more democracy? It should not, however our Governor shows us otherwise; predominantly white, wealthy communities get democracy while predominantly black and Latinx low-SES communities get autocracy. Just look at what is happening in Newark, and Camden and contrast it to any other suburban predominantly white district.
The educational interventions that are being pushed by Governor Chris Christie and executed by Cami Anderson are not “reforms”; they are community generational and educational dispossession with charter schools and school closures as a disguise and “remedy”. Educational dispossession also results in the disruption and chaos the community is experiencing right now. School closures, “no excuses” charters, and other top-down corporate intervention models are not designed to cultivate a school district rooted in democratic values. Nor are they meant to cultivate an environment that nurtures the whole-child, and values the parents and students. These “interventions” were designed to do exactly what they are doing: creating chaos, manufacturing a crisis, and disrupting the community. Schools are being stripped of their resources to the point of starvation. Classrooms are overcrowded, and resources are low or non-existent. Antiquated technology remains in many schools. There are inadequately staffed classrooms; teachers shuffled around from school to school each year, and some who are currently in a sort of edu-purgatory as they sit in limbo waiting for a school assignment. The long-term residual effects this will have on the students, and community of Newark is a form of violence that cannot be made up for if we do not stop it now.
The PULSE boycott organizers worked diligently to plan and provide an alternative learning environment for students and parents who chose to boycott. This alternative learning environment was rooted in the ideals of the Freedom School movement and a democratic collective. The Freedom schools of 1964 were designed as learning environments that functioned as agents of social change, where students must know their own history, curriculum was culturally responsive and linked to the students’ experiences, where questions were open-ended, and where academic skills were crucial. This environment is what was provided in the NPS Boycott 4 Freedom school. Not only were retired educators and other volunteers there to educate the students, but breakfast, lunch, and healthful snacks throughout the day were provided for the students. The NPS Boycott 4 Freedom school received generous donations from individuals, and organizations such as Rethinking Schools, Teaching for Change, and the Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Task Force.
The parents who organized and participated in the boycott were protecting their children from harms way, from the harm that Governor Christie does not mind inflicting on the children of Newark through oppressive policies such as the One Newark plan, school closures, “no-excuses” charters, and disrupting neighborhood schools. More than ever, the children of Newark need stability, and not the sort of chaos that the One Newark Plan is meant to cause for the children and their community. How can a system that would expect a six year old to travel the NJ Transit bus alone be trusted to educate and care for our children. Not only does this show how disinterested the Governor is in the well being of little defenseless brown and black children, but it shows how callous he is towards the concerns and needs of the students and parents of Newark.
Additionally, PULSE is advocating community driven neighborhood schools that not only respect all members of the learning/school community, but also value their voices. We are advocating learning environments that are holistic and will emotionally, socially, academically cater to the whole-child. Even though the boycott only lasted five days, the people were able to create this environment at the NPS Boycott 4 Freedom school. This environment was something the Governor and NPS refuse to do because they have no respect for the residents of Newark and what they are advocating for.
The boycott was a public cry, an act of resistance against the racist, oppressive, and undemocratic corporate intervention policies that the students and parents of Newark have to accept without complaint or question. Most importantly, the boycott was a display of love for the dignity and humanity in the parents, students, community members, and histories of Newark. The parents and students of Newark cannot sit quietly while Governor Christie and Cami Anderson continues, and they will not. As we continue on this journey for democracy and dignity of respect, I cannot help but be reminded and encouraged by the words of Mildred D. Taylor:
Roll of thunder
Hear my cry
Over the water
Bye and bye
Ole man comin’
Down the line
Whip in hand to
Beat me down
But I ain’t
Gonna let him
Turn me ’round.
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