"Will you fight for the children?"
"Will you fight for the children? Will you fight for the children?" This was the question asked by one of the demonstrators at the first meeting of the DPS Reform Board meeting held at Murray Wright High School. She was eventually thrown out of the meeting. But her question is a poignant one, especially given the strength and many levels of alienation, which were demonstrated at the meeting Thursday night. Unfortunately, the members of the Reform Board never addressed her question. Chasms of distrust and disdain have to be bridged before this question can be meaningfully addressed.
Individuals are a reflection of the society that raises them. Through interaction with its environment, a child develops its understanding of what its place is in society. Although the environment which influences a child is broad, more specifically it can be thought of as anyone who has a role in educating the child - parents, caregivers, teachers, and schools. Certainly the members of the DPS Reform Board will have a large influence on the education of children. But the important question is: What kind of individuals do they want Detroit to raise?
At the meeting Thursday night, the Reform Board gave a strong indication of what its intentions are in terms of what kind of students and individuals they want to produce. Murray Wright students - part of the ROTC program there - were part of the opening of the meeting, marching onto center stage carrying the American and State of Michigan flags. There was a standing ovation. Once the meeting got started, there were about eight ROTC students standing near me watching the proceedings with interest and concern. They were very distressed that the demonstrations against the Reform Board might reflect badly on their school. These students have learned very well that their role is to behave, not to question. On the other hand, Mr. Hendrix perceived the students who were protesting and thrown out of the meeting as having been used by adults to further the adults' agenda. As the student protesters were being thrown out of the meeting they expressed outrage that Mr. Hendrix would think that they could not reason and develop an opinion about the situation on their own. The Reform board has spoken. The role of the graduates of the DPS in greater society will be to passively, unquestioningly follow orders. They may be skilled in the technology of today, may have memorized facts and figures - but they will be followers. That will be their place.
Any CEO or teacher could tell you what the latest research says about increasing production and student performance. In general, it says that you have to nurture and protect the connection between creator and creation. Unfortunately, in most cases, this connection is most often distorted so that the creator has no creative control over his product. So despite the research, most adults and students are told what to do every day. The relationship between the Reform Board and the citizens of Detroit is no different.
The meeting demonstrated how the Reform Board has separated or alienated itself -not only from the students it is responsible for - but the community it should be representing. The board is not connected to the community and the community is not connected to the board. Of course, just the premise of an appointed board, whether or not a democratically elected official appoints it is alienating. There is no political control of the board from the bottom up. The protestors at the meeting were chastised and removed for trying to make their voices heard. Members of the board seemed shocked that anyone would "disrespect" them by disrupting the meeting - they are forgetting that having their voice and their voting rights taken away has profoundly disrespected the people of Detroit. The Reform Board has no intention of giving students and parents creative control over the schools. Management is going to be top down - parents, teachers and students are going to be told what to do. The fear and contempt of the Reform Board for the citizens it is responsible for was symbolized by the strength of the armed guards that ringed their position at the meeting.
The physical, political and emotional alienation of the Reform Board from the community which it will be working for is, in part, a product and a cause of further alienation amongst the individuals of our community. If it is possible for the Reform Board to think that its purpose is separate from that of the purpose of the people it represents, then it is necessary for it to see itself as different and separate from the people it represents.
The climate of disrespect and divisiveness was overwhelming. People on both sides seemed intent on distinguishing themselves - especially along class lines, but also along racial lines. The audience wanted to know where the Reform Board and its supporters - identified as "house niggers" by the protestors - lived and sent their children to school. Almost every time an official was introduced and took to the floor to speak, there were shouts of "Where do you live? Do you send your children to public school?" Those in the audience around me were very curious as to why a white person who teaches in the suburbs would be interested in what was going on. But that should not be surprising, because most of the residents of the Detroit Metro area have been conditioned that their only concern should be with the section of the community they live in. Certainly, the concern shown by suburban school districts about what has been happening in the DPS has been limited to what to do with move-ins from Detroit. And what did those in the audience who support the takeover think of the protesters? The principal standing next to me thought that those protesting were hooligans setting a bad example for the children of Detroit and drawing negative attention to the city. She wanted to know why they didn't show up for parent teacher conferences or to vote in elections. I asked her how she knew that they hadn't.
Will the Reform Board fight for the children? There were no bridges
built during its first public meeting. There was no consensus or community
building, no listening. Instead, there were actions and attitudes that
only served to heighten levels of distrust and disdain. None of this will
be good for the children. Can the Reform Board gain control through strong-arm
tactics? Yes. Tito did a good job of this in the former Yugoslavia. But
we are becoming more and more aware of what happens when the dictators
are gone. The divisiveness remains. There will be no meaningful change
as a result of the Reform Board.