Racism Blinders, Public Education, and Civil Rights: GLEP Is The Problem, Not The Solution

Thursday , 21, August 2014 Leave a comment

Last week Gary Naeyaert @GLEP_MI tweeted an image that sparked outrage with many people in the state and earned the organization dedicated to destroying public education much deserved notoriety. After three additional tweets trying to explain what he meant by the meme to compare Michigan State School Superintendent Mike Flanagan to school segregation champion George Wallace, the tweet with the image disappeared from the Internet. Gary’s been cautious ever since, even deleting a tweet from the GLEP account wishing Governor Snyder happy birthday on Tuesday when he posted an identical tweet under his own personal twitter account seconds later.

Gary also believes school choice is the Civil Rights issue of our time. After 20 years of organizations like GLEP hammering at public education in Michigan our public schools struggle to stay open. They function in crumbling buildings and reduce teaching staff and services creating a hostile struggle to maintain the level of quality education our public education system was famous for, despite the DeVos family’s efforts and money fueling the war to end it for good. According to Gary, this is a good thing for Michigan, because then parents will have to choose a for-profit charter school to send their children, and state tax dollars will make charter school managers rich. Hooray, the free market works!

But why compare Mike Flanagan to former Governor of Alabama George Wallace, who in 1963 made his iconic statement:

“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

Perhaps because in Gary Naeyaert’s understanding of the Civil Rights movement, it was something that only happened in the south and ended with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The truth is, if Gary Naeyaert knew anything about the history of desegregating schools in the United States, he would have used an example more recent and closer to home. An example such as Jack Hoekstra in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1971.

Jack Hoekstra was elected to the Kalamazoo School Board in 1971 in a backlash to Kalamazoo Public School District’s plan to use busing to desegregate the schools. This was part of what was then called the “May 7 Plan” where the school board voted 4 to 3 in favor of busing students to schools to make them more racially equal. In 1971 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that busing was legal to enforce desegregation. This ruling caused a backlash of protest in cities as large as Boston and smaller cities like Pontiac and Kalamazoo.

The Kalamazoo school district map in 1969 looked like a city devoured by amoebas. Elementary school districts were determined by the racial makeup of neighborhoods; when a black family moved into a home in a predominantly white neighborhood, the district lines were redrawn to make sure that black family’s children would not go to a white elementary school. The two elementary schools where racial segregation in Kalamazoo was most pronounced were Lincoln and Northglade Elementary schools; the populations of these schools were 96% and 88% respectively. Lincoln Elementary School on North Burdick in 1969 was in desperate need of repairs. Broken windows, walls with holes in them, broken furniture, plumbing, and lights were part of the daily routine for the students who attended this school. Schools in Kalamazoo where white students attended were well maintained.

Riots in 1969 and 1970 over the condition and treatment of black students in Kalamazoo schools forced the Kalamazoo School Board to take desegregation into consideration. Beginning in 1970 and continuing into 1971, the school board adopted a plan that would hire more minority school staff, have students visit schools in other elementary districts, and in 1971 begin busing students to make the racial make up of the elementary schools more equal.

The explosive backlash from the “May 7 Plan” prompted a shake up in the Kalamazoo School Board. In June a millage to pay for the new busing was voted down, and two board members were replaced with Jack Hoekstra, who became the president of the school board and Dale Pattison. Both of these new members were in favor of maintaining segregated schools in Kalamazoo. They scrapped the May 7 Plan and instead implemented a voluntary desegregation program that allowed a period of open enrollment, or in other words, people would be allowed to choose the school they wanted their children to attend. The catch was transportation would be the responsibility of the parents.

And right there, one of the first seeds of school choice was planted. Offer what appears to be a good idea and what people want, but under the veneer maintain the status quo. The battle over school desegregation raged on. The NAACP won an injunction against Jack Hoekstra and the Kalamazoo Board of Education, requiring that school busing be implemented in time for the beginning of the 1971-1972 school year.

When the parents of the students who formerly attended Lincoln Elementary School arrived to put their children on the buses to their new schools in the autumn of 1971, they were shocked to see the transformation at Lincoln. The holes in the walls were gone, the walls were covered with fresh paint. The windows were whole, the plumbing worked, the lights worked, there was new carpet on the floor and the classrooms were full of new, unbroken furniture.

Kalamazoo School Board President Jack Hoekstra continued to fight desegregation in Kalamazoo. By December of 1974 he promised to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The same Supreme Court that had ruled in 1971 that busing to desegregate schools was legal. In a statement to the press, he was quoted saying:

“Forced busing to achieve racial balance in the schools is morally wrong, educationally wrong, socially wrong and financially wrong.”

If GLEP needed someone with a great quote to create a bad meme in a futile attempt to shame Mike Flanagan, they could have used Jack Hoekstra. They didn’t use Jack Hoekstra however, for the same reason they should have never used Governor Wallace. Jack Hoekstra wanted to maintain segregation in Kalamazoo Public Schools. He was elected to the school board and fought the federal court order, and he lost. Kalamazoo Public Schools were desegregated, and after a period of five years the schools were found to be functioning just fine. Was there white flight? Yes, but that happened before Kalamazoo desegregated. The amoeba school district boundaries made white families move to different neighborhoods so their children wouldn’t go to school at Lincoln, Northglade, or the other elementary schools where segregation maintained a majority of black students. Once desegregation began, more families left Kalamazoo completely and settled in a small, sleepy bedroom town called Portage. Kalamazoo struggled afterward, but programs such as the Kalamazoo Promise have been positive steps to revitalize the school district.

The desegregation of schools in Kalamazoo faltered because people were blind to their racism. It’s the same blindness that made GLEP think posting their “Flanagan is like Wallace” meme last week was a good idea and they’re not sorry they did it. The school choice seed planted by Jack Hoekstra took root. It grew into organizations like GLEP, and BAEO. One of the main funders of BAEO, The Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, is the same foundation that paid Charles Murray a million dollars to write the Bell Curve. If you have never heard of it, it’s conservative-funded research designed to prove that poor people are poor because it’s genetic. Desegregation won’t work since poor people living in urban neighborhoods are there because they can’t escape the IQ in which they are genetically predisposed. The Bell Curve is a dog whistle Lee Atwater would be proud of.

The purpose of advocates for school choice like Gary Naeyaert and GLEP has never been about providing options. The school choice movement, backed by research such as the CREDO study and the Bell Curve are meant to return segregation to our school system and get rich off the state treasury while doing it. A more accurate meme using George Wallace (or Jack Hoekstra) to create a comparison between him and a modern school segregationist – replace Mike Flanagan’s picture with a portrait of Dick and Betsy DeVos. But that would require the director of GLEP to take off his own racism blinders.

Mike Flanagan’s crime in GLEP’s opinion is being unfair in his new mission to make for-profit charter schools, the management companies, and the charter authorizers more accountable for the poor job they have done providing school choice in Michigan. For-profit charter schools do no better educating Michigan’s students and in many cases they do a worse job. Thanks to the Detroit Free Press they have been exposed and it’s long overdue. For-profit charter schools are not being discriminated against, they’re being forced to be equal to public schools in the quality of education they provide. If for-profit charter schools can’t do the job our public schools are more than capable of doing, then perhaps it’s time for GLEP and other organizations like them to get out of the “school choice” business.

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