Charter schools stress the importance of concentration like modern day concentration camps. And I'm not talking about focused thinking in a positive way.
You may not believe me. You may think this statement is too harsh. You may think charter schools are great. But have you been inside one? Have you seen the tactics they use to keep the kids on T.A.S.K. (tracking the speaker; actively listening; sitting still; keeping quiet)? Unless and until you've seen it for yourself, you just may not understand. So I'll paint a picture for you from my five years of working in administration for one charter school, and my other year experience working for a Hispanic network of charter schools, and then my most recent experience of going back into a charter last month and lasting a total of 32 minutes before I knew I had to get out!
You see, it all has to do with discipline. The crux of the charter school system is the idea that if you can get poor little Johnny from an underprivileged, overcrowded area to sit still and shut up, Cindy from some affluent neighborhood can drive across town and impart all of her Teach for America wisdom and knowledge into him that she gained from her Ivy League experience. And thus the brainwashing begins. Because Cindy is faced with the arduous and noble task of raising Johnny's low test scores astronomically in one year, so the only way she can do that is if Johnny never speaks. "Need a pencil Johnny?" Cross your fingers like you forgot something and hold your hand in the air. This signifies your request. "Need a bathroom break?" That's out of the question. Bathroom breaks are only during assigned break time. Your bladder doesn't match that schedule? Well then, Johnny, you are going to have to go to the Dean of Students (which was me for four years) and have your mother figure out if this is the school for you. Never mind you're 11. You want to learn. Control that bladder.
Then there's the whole daily uniform fiasco. Tuck your shirt. Pull up your pants. White undershirts only. No white laces in black shoes. "Is that a tan design on your black shoe Johnny?" Then, "Off to the Dean's office you must go because you have a problem with rebellion Johnny. You are not showing your desire to want to succeed in life Johnny because if you did, you would have found an all black shoe. As a matter of fact, have the Dean call your mother so that you can go home for the day. You are not ready to learn. Real scholars dress for success. You are not a real scholar."
"Johnny, did you just roll your eyes? Ohhhhhh! You're losing Scholar Dollars for that one Johnny! Clearly you did not come to school to learn and you have some kind of attitude problem. I'm going to need to speak with your mother Johnny! Maybe an out of school suspension is just what you need to get yourself back on track!"
"Your mother can't leave work and come pick you up? Where is your father? Was that a flash of anger that just swept over you Johnny? I'm beginning to think you like poverty Johnny. You must not want to escape this poor community you're in Johnny and go to college because you are not responding like a Scholar."
I could keep going but I feel my blood pressure rising as it did before I quit my job as a Dean two years ago, in which I decided I would not suspend not another Black child. There I was thinking I was doing something noteworthy and valiant by returning to my neighborhood by serving at-risk middle school students, but instead I had become the head henchman responsible for shuffling students through the suspension-to-prison pipeline. One year, the OSS (out-of-school) suspension rate was 46%! Nearly half of all middle schoolers had been suspended at least once!
Year after year I was told I wasn't a team player because I had a heart for children. I wanted to not only go to conferences that taught restorative justice practices, I wanted to implement them! As a matter of fact, after I quit the middle school and then went on an interview with CPS for a position as a Restorative Justice Dean of Students, the interviewer told me I did really well, but that I needed to "tone down my passion." I drove home thinking, "Clearly that lady did not watch Oprah." I really didn't even know how to process that.
But back to Cindy and Johnny.
CPS is now seeking charter schools for overcrowded neighborhoods. Are these the same neighborhoods where they just closed schools earlier this year? The strike was last Fall. They close 53 schools in the Spring. And now they are soliciting for new charter school applications just one year after the strike and a mere four months after closing schools and forcing kids to go to other neighboring schools, which would then overcrowd them, would it not? Am I the only one who sees a pattern here?
If you're a parent and you're looking for a school for your child, be wary of the charter school system. As a mom of six daughters, believe me, I completely understand the importance of having children in structured academically rigorous programs. I want my kids in this type of atmosphere also. But I also want them to be able to talk. I don't want them having silent lunch. No recess. No room for creativity. And sign language for everything.
I even attempted to return to a charter school last month as a dance and fitness instructor for after school programs. I thought this would be a way for me to continue in my, dare I say, PASSION, for helping kids be healthy and fit. Until we went on a school tour and entered a fourth grade room where the children were reprimanded for looking at my group of tourists when we entered the room. The children dared to take their eyes off Cindy and she let them have it! "All eyes on me!" she chided through a high-pitched frilly voice. That alone was enough to make me want to toss a desk over and get sent out the room. She demanded that they stay focused on her at all times. Can you imagine that? Try it for yourself as an adult. Go to a coffee shop, restaurant, church, you name it--and really be engrossed in your conversation, and then somebody new enter the scene and see if you don't at least take a look to be cognizant of your surroundings. For Pete's sake: a normal person would do this! Well, not in Cindy's world. "C.A.T.S. (Children actively tracking speaker) All eyes on me!" she demanded.
But that wasn't it.
What did me in was when the CATS went to answer a question, they didn't just raise them like a normal child that you are imagining right now. No, these CATS have to raise both hands and flail them wildly in the air to show just how excited and determined they are to be called upon. An administrator, upon seeing my face, explained, "That shows their real enthusiasm." My coworker for the after school program said to me later, "I thought they were having some kind of epileptic fit or something." Yeah, they were having a fit alright. A fit of futility because there is no college in the world that is going to think that is sane. Charter schools thrive on making the kids feel college bound, even at young ages, but give them routines and procedures that will only serve them best in jail.
One year at my neighborhood charter school, the kids dubbed Malcolm X as the college name they wanted to have. Well, Cindy was livid! "Malcolm X is no real college," she explained. Beware of that also City Colleges of Chicago. Charters don't respect you. Even though you are equipped to meet the needs of students coming from overcrowded schools who need additional support and academic guidance before a baccalaureate program. You're not on that radar.
What is on the radar is money, greed, and power. As usual.
I'm just glad I'm free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty. I'm free at last.