As a society, education should be something that we hold sacred.
Going back to the days of W.E.B. Du Bois and the Niagara Movement, our people have pushed to ensure access to good quality and free educational opportunities for all Americans. Those early reformers knew that education was the greatest blessing that we could give our children.
But as we look back, more than a century from those idealistic days, we have to ask ourselves if we are really trying to make education a real blessing-or are we just pretending that we are creating an even playing field?
In New York City, there is an assault on public education. The struggles have been going on for decades. If we look back to the 1960s, there was the Ocean Hill-Brownsville fight for parental control of the schools.
We seemingly won that fight, only to have it turned around again under the leadership, or lack thereof, of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg seems to look at education and so many other aspects of governing this city as though he is running a subsidiary of Bloomberg LLC.
In his vision of so-called “education reform,” parental involvement has been lost and many public schools are being replaced by charter schools. Charter schools are not necessarily inherently bad, but for the mayor and his cronies, charter schools seem to be an excuse to privatize the public school system.
And while some schools in the system deserve to be closed, there are others that have been shining stars in our communities. In their race to privatize, the administration has been taking away funding and space from regular schools, crippling them and leaving them vulnerable to abandonment and closing.
One such school is Wadleigh.
Wadleigh, founded in 1903, was one of the first high schools for girls. The school was a pioneer in educating young women.
In 1956, it became a coeducational junior high school. At that point, the area was predominately Black. In 1993, a major $47 million renovation took place; about a decade later, the school building was split between Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts and Frederick Douglass Academy II.
As the Amsterdam News went to press, word came down that the city’s plans to get rid of Wadleigh Middle School had been abandoned, and that the middle school would be saved.
If all had gone according to the mayor’s plan, Wadleigh Middle School and all of its history would have been gone by 2014. And with the elimination of the middle school, there would have not been a direct feeder for the high school, which whould have probably been phased out next.
So while this closure is off the table, there are still ongoing threats to our public school system. Education entrepreneur Eva Moskowitz and her Harlem Success Academy will be moved somewhere. We know she has moved into so many other schools in Harlem and recently in Brooklyn, and that the next school selected will also be one of ours.
While Wadleigh will stay in the community it still needs to be supported properly. It does not need to be replaced next year or the year after with another Success Academy where they “counsel out” our children and simply teach them to tests, not to be particularly productive members of our society.
Wadleigh can only stay intact if it has the support it needs to be an excellent school, one that educates the whole student. No one wants to send their child to a failing school. As a community, we must stand together and make Wadleigh and our other schools successes, not statistics.
While we have won this fight, there will be another one tomorrow and the next day and the next.
When the DOE won’t support our schools, we as a community must force and demand and fight for that support.
We must partner with labor and community groups, elected officials and others who believe our children deserve an excellent public education. It is time we take our schools back. If we don’t do it now, we will lose another generation.
Our children deserve a great education, and we can’t hope and expect the billionaire mayor to look out for our interests. Instead, we must remember, recall and reinvigorate the idealism and hope of those far-off days of the Niagara Movement and Du Bois. We won this one, but tomorrow is another day.