The MSR responds: Black people must decide what’s best for Black people


MSR-Editorial6We here at the MSR are a little sad that Mr. Pearlstein of Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment found our August 13 “In Our View” to be a “bad editorial” but we can’t say we’re surprised. We did not speak well of Better Ed, which he acknowledges as “an American Experiment spin-off of which we’re very proud,” so his disagreement with us is quite understandable.

Better Ed billboard
Better Ed billboard

What is less understandable is Mr. Pearlstein’s puzzlement over why our editorial said, “One thing seems clear: Better Ed has little or no genuine concern for the well-being of African American children.” He asks, “How, exactly, do they know that?”

We provided our reasoning right there in the editorial from which he quotes. Let us repeat what Mr. Pearlstein chose to ignore:

“Any organization with true concern for those most failed by the system could have cited extensive consultation with Black organizations, Black leaders, Black professionals in education and child development, and Black parents before launching any PR campaign supposedly on behalf of Black children. Better Ed did no such thing.

“A sincere organization would have on its board a majority of people of color. To the best of our knowledge, Better Ed is a White organization operated by Whites under the direction of Whites claiming to be oh so very concerned about the welfare of failing Black students in Minneapolis. Does anyone else see something terribly wrong with this picture?”

Mr. Pearlstein declares that he sees nothing whatever wrong with this picture. Here, we suggest, is exposed a very serious and surprising blind spot in his (and the Center’s?) grasp of U.S. racial dynamics. He claims to know his history and understand “the distrust and worse” between Whites and Blacks that “oozes” from that history. Yet he sees no good reason why inner-city Black people should not welcome with open arms an organization of admittedly conservative White suburbanites who come to them saying, “We’re your friends” and “We’re on your side” and “Here’s a great school voucher system you should adopt because we know what’s best for you.”

Most of us need look no further than the well-documented history of colonialism to understand perfectly well why such distrust is not only reasonable but necessary as a Black survival tactic, no less than our Native brothers and sisters must still look askance at White folks handing out free blankets. A century ago European nations converged on African people bearing gifts, asking for their trust and offering them the benefits of the Western civilization. They left behind a legacy of murderous genocide and the virtual destruction of a raped continent. There’s a lesson not soon forgotten.

We are, of course, not talking about colonialism here in 2015 Minnesota, although neo-colonial attitudes do resurface from time to time and White Supremacy is by no means done with us — especially in Minnesota, where by several measures Black people are worse off than anywhere else in the country. Might that have something to do with policies promoted by the state’s Center for the American Experiment? We think it does.

Brother Cornell West — also, like Mr. Pearlstein’s Dr. Hess, a Harvard-trained scholar, and Princeton-trained as well — identifies the privatization of schools as one of several kinds of White Supremacist abuses currently in progress, along with police brutality and the gentrification of Black communities.

White individuals and organizations conservative or liberal supporting efforts to close the educational achievement gap are always welcome at the table. But to be recognized as sincere they must at least show sufficient respectful cultural appreciation to let Black people decide what is best for Black people. Black people must at a minimum be consulted all along the way and preferably in charge of any such efforts. This is our baseline criterion of genuine concern for the welfare of “minority boys and girls.”

Has the Center for the American Experiment at least run its Better Ed plan past the African American Leadership Forum or the Council on Black Minnesotans to get their input if not their support? In response to our inquiries, Better Ed President Devin Foley has been evasive, saying only, “We enjoy meeting with and listening to all people, but we do not seek endorsements from any organizations.” He declined to name any individuals or groups they have consulted.

Having to date no documentation that any meaningful consultation with any African Americans occurred in the launching and five-year operation of Better Ed, nor that any Black people whatsoever are or have been part of its operations, we reiterate our assertion that Better Ed shows little or no genuine concern for the well-being of African American children. This time we hope our rationale is clear.

Mr. Pearlstein also ignores our concerns about Better Ed’s secret donors who have anteed up more than $7 million over the last six years to pay for, among other things, billboards and postcards that use exaggerated, fear-mongering language and images to prey on people’s biases and stereotypes with the intent of slandering and discrediting the public school system. If their motives are so pure, we ask, why insist on anonymity? Does Mr. Pearlstein see anything wrong with this picture?

Better Ed’s lack of fiscal transparency invites us to speculate on just who its sugar daddies might be. Mr. Pearlstein assures us that means tests applied in every school voucher program will prevent rich people already paying private school tuition from ever qualifying for tax subsidies. This is good news, but it leads us to wonder who else might be bolstering the Better Ed treasury, and why.

It could be billionaire hedge funds. After all, just last month the Walton Family Foundation (run by the richest people in the world) sponsored a symposium at the Harvard Club in Manhattan for investors interested in the charter school sector — who wants a piece of this action? Their event featured experts on charter school investing from Standard and Poor’s, Piper Jaffray, Bank of America and Wells Capital Management, among others.

The Walton family itself has bankrolled most of the charter schools in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Surely they might spare a few million to help Better Ed trash our Minneapolis public schools so they can install a few Walton charter schools here.

Mr. Pearlstein wraps his Better Ed in a cloak of goodness that invites close scrutiny. First there are the “good people.” We are told Better Ed people are all “good people” because Mr. Pearlstein knows them and vouches for their goodness. His glowing character reference might be more persuasive with respect to job motivation if we also knew who was paying Better Ed salaries.

Then there is “good research.” Mr. Pearlstein cites no particulars, but he assures us it’s all “rigorous” and features “thrilled parents” whose children have excelled in school choice programs. This is not the place to make our case, but we understand the research is not remotely that clear-cut. We’ll save that argument for another commentary.

Finally, in contrast to all the good Mr. Pearlstein finds in Better Ed, there’s the “badness” of MSR’s editorial. He worries that distrust between the races is destructive. We agree and suggest that such distrust can be overcome through respectful cultural appreciation — but not when it continues to be justified by neo-colonial White Supremacist backwardness. Then it can only be firmly opposed.

Mr. Pearlstein interprets our criticism of his Better Ed as a “racial slur,” presumably because we pointed out that White-run Better Ed’s culturally uninformed propaganda campaign exhibits no sincere concern for communities of color and appears to have other, less altruistic motives for its questionable tactics. We call that constructive criticism. No racial slur intended.

Read the seven-part series on Better Ed:

First installment: Public schools foe Better Ed campaigns for school choice

Second installment: Better Ed: People want out of public schools

Third installment: Better Ed: Let parents choose the best schools — and cultures — for their child

Fourth installment: MPS: School choice will not close achievement gap

Fifth installment: Vouchers offer no solution to achievement gaps

Sixth installment: The pros and cons of ‘school choice’

Seventh installment: More ‘school choice’ pros and cons

MSR Editorial: Educating our children: There’s got to be a better way

Mitch Pearlstein’s response to MSR Editorial: Racial distrust and educational freedom