The newly elected, union-backed Denver school board promised from the get-go that it would put radicalized political rhetoric well ahead of any concern for the intellectual nourishment of Denver’s youngsters, a promise that has lamentably been kept right out of the starting block.
The new People’s Revolutionary school board made headlines twice last week, amid its inaugural regular meeting. The first informs us that freshly minted board member Tay Anderson intends to remain seated during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Says young Mr. Anderson: “I have decided not to stand because we need our leaders to have the courage to fight alongside communities in sending a clear message that we will not stand while white supremacy is thriving.” He does not, of course, go on to elucidate just where, or how, white supremacy is “thriving.”
Anderson, and others who share the same message, present this Hieronymous Bosch-portrait of America, mobilizing behind an objective of convincing the listener that the entirety of the American experiment rests upon a shadowy infrastructure calculated to exclude blacks, Hispanics, and other groups from positions of prominence. To assert that that is not the case — in a country which once enlisted the full powers of state to liberate blacks from slavery, and again, a century later, to free them from the yoke of Jim Crow — is dismissed derisively as “racism”.
He continues, with the obligatory line about police brutality: “We will not stand while black and brown people are being murdered by those who are supposed to ‘protect and serve’ our communities,” he is reported as saying.
A great deal has been written, in light of former football player Colin Kaepernick’s similar antics, on the historical and cultural solecisms which encourage such nonsense, so there is no need to amplify them here, except to point out that Anderson finds himself in a singularly unique position to substantively help Denver’s inner-city children — black, brown, white — to avoid entanglement in the criminal life which ultimately leads to confrontation with the police, if he so chooses; to wit, help ensure they receive a proper education.
Which brings us to the second, more serious, headline, concerning the new board’s latitudinarian approach to failing schools.
The story relates how, during that first meeting, the new board indicated an eagerness to move away from a policy of closing and replacing schools that failed in their mission — that is, to provide at least an adequate education for their students — and instead grant them each a two-year grace period to turn things around. It’s the policy equivalent of giving each failing school a friendly tap on the arm and telling them “buck up, sport. You’ll figure it out.”
It’s a curious strategy, which begs the question — if the students coming out of these schools are consistently deficient in elementary skills, what makes anyone think the status quo will correct the defect? Who will do it? The teachers and administrators who let the students fall so far in the first place?
And what of the students trapped in inadequate schools? Are they expected to languish in educational purgatory while the school board and the institution that failed them pokes around for two years? Veteran board member Barbara O’Brien, apparently the sole voice of reason remaining on the board, was quoted as saying that “there was almost no discussion of what it means for students to be in a school that has such low (academic) growth, there’s almost no hope of moving them toward grade-level work.”
Naturally, rather than focusing on the problem at hand — delivering a quality education and attaining desired student outcomes — the discussion amongst the board and the principals in questions gravitated to the rating system. Anderson asked the principals how people would see their schools if only those bothersome failed ratings were magically taken away. This elicited from one principal that, mere academic deficiencies aside, her school is a “joyful, joyful place to be.” Sigh.
Solutions exist, and some key ones were flirted with in the previous decade or so by the Denver school board, which resulted in improved scores and higher graduation rates. Real educational improvement will only come through the corrective pressure exerted by affording all children the same educational options available to their wealthier neighbors. This was the direction Denver had been inching toward with measurable success. Sadly, this is not on the agenda for the new board members, who appear inclined instead to engage theatrically in prejudiced categorical thought, which educates no one.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.