“‘Wasi’chu’ is a Lakota word that means ‘non-Indian,’ but another version of this word means ‘the one who takes the best meat for himself…It means greedy.”- Aaron Huey
In my mind, this term is applicable to all people whose greed overrides the well-being of any group of people that does not have the resources to defend itself against an unjust system or group of individuals or entities. They use their power to marginalize and limit the opportunity of groups of people to lead dignified and constructive lives filled with opportunity while often capitalizing on the inequalities created. Is the large-scale privatization of K-12 public education to be the next big investment scheme?
I have long thought that many of our urban centers have begun to function as de facto prisons or prisoner of war camps due to the lack of real freedom and opportunity, extreme violence and lower life expectancy. For decades, conditions have been created and allowed to fester which have lead to economic and political disempowerment and social volatility which, in turn, leads to increased violence and mental distress/illness. Many have become war zones where parents and grandparents are struggling to raise empowered children who will not become a statistic in the penal system, at a morgue or at the Division of Family Services.
Education is an essential means of empowerment. The theory behind public education was to create a system which gave everyone a strong educational foundation in order to thrive in this country, irrespective of their background. Over the course of my lifetime, I have seen national and local public education initiatives being used as tools to systematically defund and dismantle schools and their interlinked programs. Federal and local governments and legislatures have been either ignorant or simply diabolic in paying lip service to one of the founding principles of a democracy while wiping away educational opportunity with draconian and misguided measures. Please read “Indescribably Insane”: A public school system from hell as a case in point.
What is it in us that makes us prefer a privatized school setting over a public one? I distinctly remember that when the charter school movement began to pick up steam it was to offer rightly concerned parents an immediate option for their children to avoid poorly performing schools. I do not believe that the majority of people envisioned that entire school districts would be dissolved and dismantled permanently and supplanted with privatized schools.
The dialogue which has arisen during our education crisis has turned the truth on its head in urban centers. The real crisis – the lack of resources through our antiquated and inequality-based school funding model and the war against teachers unions through the push for charter schools and the lethal No Child Left Behind national mandates- has been obscured by a debate on whether charter schools are better than public schools. Those who want to completely privatize have found a ripe public to misinform, take advantage of and control. If there are no good public school options, their goals become an easy fait accompli.
The sad thing is, is that the answer is already known in the suburbs. The public school option is the overwhelming option of true choice in America’s best school districts which without question are found in school districts with high income per capita. Parents want their children to enjoy the benefits of going to inexpensive and “safe” public schools with their neighbors’ children who attend the same schools. Teachers and the Teachers Union are respected and appreciated in the suburbs for the outstanding preparation they give their students. They support these schools in their well-researched decisions to integrate cutting edge technologies, methods and techniques to the core curricula by asking a teacher as I did, “What do you think would be best? Should he bring his smartphone, an ipad or small laptop to facilitate his coursework?” Parents of children in suburban public schools willingly donate to technological and arts funding drives because we know the long-term benefits of having SMART boards in every classroom or additional (graphic) arts and supplies and we can afford to fund them.
Every developed nation but ours puts emphasis on improving their public schools. They realize that the stronger their public education system is, the more opportunities are created for everyone. In those countries, education, like health care, is viewed as a basic right and not as a luxury good to be enjoyed by those who already have great opportunity or limited to the lucky ones.
I am looking forward to watching Soledad O’ Brien’s Black In America: The Education Gap which will be airing on CNN Friday on August 30th. I hope you are, too.