Examining the politics of public education: Values
By | Jonathan Bateman
They Sin Against Us
A Call for Districts to Relinquish Their Power
When I reflect upon the current state of the district and my experience, I can’t help but feel hopeless. I try not to though. All the sacrifices that have been made by my ancestors, their prayers and tears, amount to their descendants feeling just as stuck as they were. Sometimes I wonder why, as a community, we ever expected metro area districts to care or intentionally live by values that foster equity while there are still sins unatoned for that first manifested decades ago. A cleansing and repurposing of districts must take place, requiring them to make room for equity in education. But we must first collectively acknowledge and refute the white supremacy that formed the system of education, to begin with. Then, districts must relinquish their power and reorganize as an entity where decision-making comes from the community. Lastly, districts must commit to act on the values they say they possess.
Values. Who defines them? What are the consequences of not upholding them? As individuals, we all define values differently. But one thing we seem to agree on is that although metro area districts have clearly defined values, they don’t guide their actions… and we don’t understand why. We keep on throwing equitable solutions into a white supremacist system that disguises itself as fair but by nature can’t be.
As a former student of Denver Public Schools, I have seen firsthand the outrage from teachers, parents, community members and students directed toward the district leadership for not upholding their core values: Integrity, Collaboration, Accountability, Equity, and Students First. These values would produce equitable results if it weren’t for the skewed system they were manufactured into. Instead, appeasing public demands by making empty-handed promises seems to be sufficient for DPS. In order to maintain control, obstinance in the place of cooperation is standard when negotiating with parents and teachers, wearing them down. Creating malleable metrics for assessing schools allows for experimentation and placing the blame on vulnerable populations while dodging responsibility for failing schools. Systemic protection of whiteness denies marginalized communities the power to find solutions to educational inequities. Yet, DPS is hailed as a national frontrunner in innovative policy that claims to improve student success. If Integrity, Collaboration, Accountability, Equity, and Students First are truly the core values of DPS, the message is being lost in the lived experiences of Denver’s children.
By centralizing decision-making power within the community, our lived experiences can change. I agree with the criticism that “the district is making decisions, but they don’t really know the community.” This is due to an abuse of power, which has also called into question the role of the district: “[f]or many, schools don’t simply exist to help students meet educational standards; they also should serve to establish and maintain communal values.” In order to accomplish this, the district must not simply ask for community input and consider it a mere suggestion, but it must implement it as a duty and obligation. How can the district maintain values while being praised for its innovation in the form of grants from high profile organizations like Oprah’s Angel Network which gave 1 million dollars in 2010 to DSST, or the $55 million given to the Colorado Department of Education for charter school expansion in 2018?
“It has not been lost amongst community members that the vast majority of charter schools and other innovative schooling solutions have been placed in low-income, minority communities…” Do these communities want these charter schools? How can we know? Some voices claiming to represent communities of color, like African-American journalist Roland Martin, are often clandestinely backed by big charter school networks or other organizations that support innovation. One of the most influential charter school networks in DPS, DSST, co-sponsored Mr. Martin’s town hall meeting, Is School Choice the Black Choice? on October 11th, 2019 in Denver. The supposed purpose was for the people to have a voice, but the entire conversation appeared to push for a specific charter school agenda, with some clear indicators of DPS’ endorsement of this agenda, including through a DPS board member’s participation on the panel.
Another way agendas are forced onto people is through policy. Historically, the public school system, which was once overtly built on white supremacy, is now covertly racist and oligarchical. Policies such as redlining, busing
and segregation that disenfranchised the lower classes and people of color are still present in different forms. Metro area districts often lack follow-through on their values, appease, wear us down, experiment and blame. They sin against us. There isn’t space for equity until districts renounce their source of power (a historically racist and inequitable system), abdicate jurisdiction, and submit as servants to the public.
A community-centered school district would include parents and students in the yearly budget (both district and school budgets), allow for the public to elect the superintendent instead of the school board, reorganize the structure of how the board is voted in and how they are held accountable by the community, and the district must adopt community school models for all of its schools.
Jonathan Bateman is a sophomore and former student of DPS who is now homeschooled. Education has always been his top priority and he sees it as his best way to make a positive impact on his community. He currently has aspirations of going to college and studying engineering and anthropology.