On Friday February 27, the United Federation of Teachers held another round of forums in communities across the city to speak out against the horrific proposals of Governor Andrew Cuomo on public education. One of Cuomo’s proposals is the creation of 100 new charter schools, institutions wildly favored and completely dominated by the super rich, who shower their favorite charter brands with their tax deductable largess and have created an extremely visible two tiered school system. The two tiered system is all the more visible (and to parents it is meant to be) in what have been called “co-locations, ” or public school buildings in which public schools and charter schools uneasily co-exist. No charter brand has received more 1% largess than Success Academy, the ever-expanding empire of Eva Moskowitz, which has a public relations budget in excess of a million dollars. Success Academy began in my school as Harlem Success Academy , and has been expanding both in my school and throughout the city ever since. As a teacher and chapter leader who has dealt with co-locating with Success Academy from day one, I was asked to speak briefly on the experience at the forum held at the Church of the Holy Trinity on E. 88th Street. In the words below I did so.
On the Education of Co-Location
As we all know, education takes many forms. There is, for example, the education we receive in our homes and in our communities, where we learn how to comport ourselves, how to interact with others, and hopefully, what it means to be a decent person. Then there is the formal education we receive in our schools, where we learn to read and write, solve mathematical problems, gain knowledge of history and science and, above all, learn to think and discern, which provides us the tools to make sense of our lives and our reality.
In my experience of many years of co-locating with Success Academy at PS/MS 149,
I am forced to the appalling conclusion that, due to the extremely targeted and reckless largess of the super rich, largess that could never be matched by public funding, some co-locations can be said to provide yet another form of education, and a particularly cruel form at that.
The education is all the more powerful because the lessons are unspoken and must remain unspoken, or at least disguised, for this particular education to be allowed to continue in a nominally public institution in a nominally public system.
My students at PS/MS 149, like most kids sensitive and intelligent, learn daily and silently, without words, without language, that they are simply not as good as their co-located counterparts at Harlem Success. They learn daily and silently, without words, that some children are simply better and more deserving than others. Some children deserve the newest and brightest technology, as well as brand new carpeting, brand new books, fresh paint jobs; some children deserve what happens to be laying around or nothing at all. Some children deserve music programs; others can have theirs taken away and their instruments jammed into closets and forgotten. Some children deserve block rooms in which to explore and play and others deserve to be taught in stairwells and hallways like children of a lesser God.
Some children deserve fresh food delivered daily and wheeled through the hallways for all to see; others can dine on the considerably lesser fare of the DOE.
Indeed, if you are looking for a perverse negation of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which outlawed the separate and unequal public schools of the Jim Crow South, you need look no further than the co-location of PS/MS 149 and Harlem Success Academy.
Each day I see the Success Academy students marching through the crowded hallways and stairwells of 149, passing students from my school, children from the same neighborhoods, displaying no recognition whatsoever of their common humanity. Each day my students watch as the ephemeral teachers of Success Academy snap their fingers and bark orders at their “scholars, “ all the while behaving as if my fellow teachers and myself, in effect their co-located colleagues, did not even exist.
These things too are an education, and you can rest assured that both groups of students are learning their respective if silent lessons which, if put to words, could be rendered simply: some people count and some do not.
There is something very powerful going on here and something very wrong. It is morally wrong. It is educationally wrong. It is civically wrong and it is spiritually wrong. Such cruel disparity and militant hubris has no place at all in a public school system, no place at all in a democratic society. Such education, however well disguised, has no place in our communities, our city and our nation.