An Open Letter to White Conservative Education Reformers

Dear White Conservative Education Reformers, I am an African-American teacher in the ’hood and I come in peace. I want to thank you for the the blog post you published yesterday, The Left’s Drive to Push Conservatives Out of Ed Reform, because it gives me a valid reason to get some important things off my chest. In your post, you referenced a recent piece I wrote about how the elite NewSchools Venture Fund Summit took a drastic turn this year by abandoning the rich, out-of-touch approach to education reform and instead empowered Black and brown leaders to address the systemic racism that ravages the education of students of color. I was inspired by this shift toward diversity and inclusion, a sign that you were finally open to hearing voices from the marginalized communities you purport to serve. Nope. Instead, your leadership chose to squander this opportunity for racial unity to call me a four-letter word. Left. While being labeled a leftist isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, it’s not who I am. As the founder of a national nonprofit called Teachers Who Pray, I am not ashamed of my deep Christian convictions, even on controversial issues like religious rights, abortion, marriage and school choice. The tricky part is that I’m also Black, and unapologetically so. And much like my heroes Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, I believe it’s my duty to speak out against societal structures that oppress my community, like police brutality and school funding inequity. Perhaps that’s why you erroneously called me a leftist. I’m just a tad too ethnocentric for the right, and a little too traditional for the left. But enough about me. Sure, there were some proclamations made at the summit that made me cringe (I stated that in my post). But when you’re Black and you need funding and you have to operate in the White liberal-dominated education reform world, you get used to sucking it up and complaining about it later. And that’s what you just did in your post. Welcome to my world, White conservative education reformer! It’s no fun being a minority, is it? It’s frustrating when you feel your voice isn’t being heard or respected. Not being invited to hold the mic is a lonely place, right? Well, consider this a gift. You can use your newfound sense of marginalization from the NewSchools conference, with its distasteful emphasis on Black Lives Mattering and its irrational rhetoric about racial power sharing, to enlighten your perspective every time you enter a fancy boardroom and don’t see other smart executives and think-tankers who look like me or my Mexican friend Maria Garcia. The summit’s opening plenary that you trashed in your post wasn’t actually about “embracing controversial movements” like Black Lives Matter, immigration, affirmative action or Obamacare. Yes, the presenters voice support for those agendas, but I believe NewSchools was trying to teach us this vital point: Every life-changing social movement has been led by individuals who stand to lose everything if they fail. About 85 percent of the families in Chicago Public Schools, for example, are Black and brown and poor. If you live in Chicago, and neither of those three descriptors apply to you or the majority of your leadership team, then you are most likely a part of the education reform business, not the movement. If you call yourself an urban education reformer and you find yourself asking, “Are we going to talk about anything other than personal narratives and how terrible structural racism is?” then the chances of you successfully delivering educational equity to these poor children living in Chicago is zero. These kids don’t spend a lot of their time talking about racism; they are too busy playing indoors to avoid random bullets that ring like doorbells in the ghettos that our city politicians redlined just for their kind. I didn’t hear the left saying “fix structural racism first” before we can fix schools, as you report. I heard them saying that we cannot fix schools if the same racial hostility that permeates society also thrives within our own education reform organizations. Not agreeing with every aspect of the left’s social agenda doesn’t make you appear as racists or bigots, as your post fears. However, deciding to cut ties with fellow reform-minded leaders who might look and think differently than you certainly will. When people of color who have worked long and hard finally get invited to a seat at the table, you probably shouldn’t get up and leave. You call me a “social justice warrior” as if it’s a bad thing, as if the gospel of Christ doesn’t compel one to advocate on behalf of the poor, the widowed, the fatherless and the oppressed. And where will you go, anyway? Are you longing for the good old days when the NewSchools Summit was an exclusive education reform country club? Is that really how you want to lead your urban education reform venture? I didn’t think so. You called that “groupthink,” remember? So now that you’ve written your public complaint to NewSchools, why not politely ask its CEO, Stacey Childress, for a chance to hold the mic at the next summit. She told me that there’s plenty of room at the table for both conservatives and liberals. Since I’m neither, I hope she’ll save a special seat for me.
Marilyn Rhames
Marilyn Anderson Rhames is an educator, writer, thought leader and social entrepreneur. She is founder and CEO of Teachers Who Pray, a faith-based nonprofit that has more than 100 chapters nationwide. She is also the author of the upcoming book, “The Master Teacher: 12 Spiritual Lessons That Can Transform Schools and Revolutionize Public Education.” ...

Join the Movement