Ah… the Hollywood Axis of Evil. We have become accustomed to its denizens poking their stimulant-addled noses into matters of public policy, and making profound asses of themselves; from actor Sean Penn’s ludicrous foray into international drug-cartel diplomacy to star Leonardo DiCaprio’s half-baked musings on climate change control. Lately, we have been exposed to the pedagogical theories of cable network Home Box Office through one of its starlets, a Mr. John Oliver.
Oliver’s HBO presentation over the financial and personnel problems of a single charter school sought to sully the entire charter school movement. These new, public, choice-based independent schools of learning were subjected to the full sensationalist Lifetime Channel-type creative treatment and the Picasso-like thing was plain nasty.
Just what to expect from a misinformed dabbler from abroad who reportedly delights in skewering hypocrisy and foolishness in our American life, but his screed reflects more pertinently on his own prejudices and obsessions than anything having to do with charter schools. It is filled with know-nothingism and bigotry; a plain class-hatred; possibly a holdover from his subjection in the British Empire to its declining fortunes in the post-WWII era. His “Besmirch and Destroy” mission recalls the once mighty and proud United Kingdom’s languor following the due-dated passing of its monarchical workings and archaic institutions.
The UK’s competitive diminution and financial ills were halted only after Prime Minister Thatcher’s capitalist reforms in the 1980s reversed the Labor Party-fostered sclerosis. If they had their way, would HBO and Oliver import discredited socialist precedents to our shores to suffocate the new school reform movement? If it weren’t for charters and other reforms, America’s historically state-run, local systems of education might be sad imitations of the worst mediocrities and inefficiencies of post war England.
It is hard to fathom how HBO and Oliver’s miserable mission was launched. Did it exude from one of those woozy, overly long pool parties in the Hamptons or Hollywood where these glittery types “summer?”
I can tell you that charter school administrators, teachers and entrepreneurs spent THEIR summer planning expansion of their curricula and facilities. In August, I attended my first meeting with the board of a year-old charter primary school not far from where I am standing today. Previously, I served on the board of the John V. Lindsay Wildcat Charter High School in Hunts Point (in another part of the Bronx where Oliver’s claque have not been seen lately). So the many unpaid volunteer teachers, aides and board members (drawn from the ranks of parents, friends, business owning women and men in the neighborhood) know a little of what they are talking about when discussing the charters track records, which include: superior graduation rates, category-leading district test scores, unprecedented parental attendance and community involvement at school functions; unparalleled post-graduate success.
The fact is, around the lively and industrious “Green Streets” of Port Morris, NY prospects have never been brighter for school kids since the founding of the Bronx’s first charter school more than a decade ago and now there are now more than sixty of them in the borough alone and 3,000 or so more throughout the nation.
Why don’t the HBO bigwigs go to Harlem, Crown Heights or Morrisania in the Bronx and see how real school reform is being accomplished. Students, teachers, volunteers and business owners, administrators and technicians implementing variations on the traditional state school model without a penny of additional cost to the public (there are, in fact, some charter schools delivering superior primary education to our inner cities at lower than average cost!). All this happening now, here in Mott Haven, the Bronx for instance, which for more than 30 years was among the most crime-ridden locales and within the most impoverished Congressional District in the nation!
Of course, John Oliver and the children of the Clintons, Obamas and Bushes enjoyed the privileges of great wealth with elite prep educations instead of taking a risk with ordinary government schools. Well, good for them. There’s nothing wrong with wealth; without it, school reform would be impossible and the choices would be much narrower. Wealthy families contributing resources and time along with private foundations, and private and public universities (including the State University of New York) state education departments (including the Board of Regents of the State of New York) and of course public education systems throughout the nation have been major benefactors of the 7,000 or so charters presently in operation. Without the unique public/private charter hybrid alternative, options available to the likes of the Olivers, Clintons, Obamas and Bushes would be closed off to typical city-and suburban-dwelling students for the simple reason of cost!
But why should alternative educational methods be limited to the uber-rich of Brooklyn Heights, Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Beverly Hills? What about the young educational “consumers” of Detroit, Milwaukee, Boston, Washington DC, Phoenix and working class New York’s Harlem, the Bronx and Bedford-Stuyvesant? Despite the unearned hostility of bureaucrats, politicians and public employee unions and others invested in the status quo (such as profit-seeking testing and publishing operations) many public charters, traditional private operators and even home-schoolers still outperform one-size fits-all government institutions. This is true despite the fact that public choice-charters, composed of the highest proportions of African-American, Spanish-speaking and other minority children, consistently out-perform public non-choice schools when matched against educational pacesetters in Asia and Europe.
For supporters of intellectual and cultural expression, free inquiry and individual actualization, privately-launched, non-majoritarian government options like charters should be an inspiration to the creative and entertainment classes that Oliver purports to represent. Instead it provokes their anxiety, ridicule and meanness.
Those who tolerate the continuing underachievement of “Big Education” will likely excuse the inefficacies and failures of “Big Business,” “Big Government” and Big national teachers’ unions; clearly, their acceptance of such malignancies is a perquisite of their wealth. But dare they continue to impede families desiring to evade selfish private interest and to begin enjoying the American Dream for themselves? The HBO ilk must be called to account for perpetuating more “deferred-dreams” for the underprivileged and disregarding the wishes of hundreds of thousands of independent-minded, taxpaying parents and their children. The public choice-charter movement is an immutable force, growing in economic and political clout and unwilling to wait for monopolistic oligarchies to reform themselves!
The distemper of “Oliver’s Army of Ignorance” might be attributed to politically correct bigotry or a congenital inability to consider dissonant points of view. It really doesn’t matter. The media elites disregard for facts “on the ground” in the “less tony” precincts of our inner cities can no longer be pardoned as parody or satire.
The story of the American charter school experiment is worthy of serious debate, but HBO has recused itself from the intellectual issue of the age; the readiness of America’s future delegation to the emerging world community. Reactionary professional misconduct of this order is worthy of the state media of National Socialist Germany or the Soviet Union, not one of the greatest independent American media conglomerates in history.
If you are interested in joining the conversation about the new American Revolution in education, see www.edreform.com. Find out how to visit a working public-choice charter school in your community.