THANK YOU REED HASTINGS FOR MAKING ME MORE WOKE
I’ve been away from my blog for a little over a year. I needed to be laser focused on getting TAF ready to scale our programs, plus I’ve also been working on my Pahara Fellowship project that supports leaders of color who operate single-site charter schools across the country. Quite a few things have happened in the education reform movement that inspired me to get back to this blog of mine.
My Pahara Fellowship project takes me to many charter school events and this year I was presenting a workshop with my project-mate and friend Kimberly Smith. Our day started off great with our workshop packed with charter school leaders of color ready to roll up their sleeves and work through some of their most pressing challenges and questions. After the workshop Kimberly and I had a celebratory lunch, went to a couple of other sessions and then made our way into the afternoon plenary. The featured speaker was Reed Hastings of Netflix fame. Reed is one of the major investors in the charter school arena. He’s all about scale. I also figured he’s all about something else too – believing that for the most part, only white people have the intelligence and ability to be leaders in the education reform movement.
Now of course he didn’t say that outright, but he may as well have. The format of the plenary was in two parts: first he spoke at the podium, then he was interviewed by Margaret Fortune, an African American woman from Sacramento who is the CEO of the Fortune Schools. The message of his speech was how long it will take to fully transform public education through charter schools. He said it’s been 20 years and it will take 20 more for the next be impact, then another 20 before we really start to see the full benefit. I get what he was trying to say, but he decided to drive it home using our country’s voting rights history. He explained how at first only white male land owners could vote, then 50 years later only white males of any wealth could vote, then 50 years later in principal African American males could vote, then 50 years later women could vote, then 50 years after that African Americans as a whole could vote in practice. He told this little tale of voting rights as if he was telling a bedtime story as if every time he said “then 50 years later” we were supposed to oh and ah. I was personally insulted, but the insult just got worse.
For the second part of the plenary, Margaret opened up with a two part question that has been asked by many—until recently mostly in private—over the last decade or so: “What do we do about the majority of schools being led and taught by people who look nothing like the kids they serve, nor know anything about those communities? How do we help leaders who look like me get to the resources they need to open an manage schools. Most of us can’t do like I can and just pick up the phone and call people like you”. First of all, I was absolutely shocked that Margaret asked such a question in this venue to someone like Reed, and I looked over to Kimberly and gave her the look as if I was saying “That’s our girl!”. Then we braced for Reed’s answer. He started his answer by saying it’s a challenge that needs to be solved. Well duh! Then he basically continued his “it’s going to take a long time” theory. He went on to say that it’s going to take “generational change”. His example was we’d have to wait for the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Schools, the darling of charter management organizations in which Reed and others invest heavily) students to graduate college and become teachers in charter schools so they can be role models for students in the schools. Really Reed, that is your solution? We have these very bright and very committed leaders of color who could use some investments to continue their great work, and your solution is the wait for generational change?
So let me tell you how that landed on me and many other people in the room.
- He essentially sent a message that there are currently no leaders of color capable of running schools so therefore he’s not going to bother investing in the ones who try.
- He essentially said that the only hope we have is to wait for a new generation of people of color to be educated in the KIPP system (under a Eurocentric doctrine in a controlled paternalistic environment, taught by mostly young white teachers who need a clue) and then they would be worthy to be teachers. Not leaders, though. They can only go as far as being teachers.
- He essentially told every young white school leader in the room they have no peers of color, so it’s up to them to educate the poor black and brown kids because they are the best to do it.
If I wasn’t woke enough before, I sure am now!
Now, I appreciate any investments in the education system intended on helping to improve it because we are in dire straits when it comes to educating black and brown students, but we have to look the gift horse in the month when we’re talking about the development of our babies. The inability of white philanthropists like Reed Hastings to recognize Black and Latino talent is troubling to say the least and an example of why we must be critical. These philanthropists are gatekeeping when they use their money to mostly fund those who they feel are worthy, but in reality are frankly some of the least qualified to do this work with black and brown students. Because of their inability to see talent in other ways, these philanthropists are missing out on the very people who could be changing educational opportunities for black and brown kids at a faster rate. Makes me wonder if they really want change or are content with building another arm of the legacy of oppression.
I see it as the job of all of us who believe the talent runs wider and deeper to call it like we see it.
We need to refuse to, as Kimberly says, bark in the dark!
Don’t let the few of us bold enough to give this voice stand alone in the wind. Speak up!