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'Get Schooled' Shows Blacks Must Join Education Debate

TheLoop21, News Report, Raechal Leone Posted: Sep 10, 2009

I got the chills Tuesday at the launch of Get Schooled, while watching a clip from Davis Guggenheim's upcoming film on public education. In it, a little Black boy talked to the camera about school and about how his father had died from drugs. It showed the boy entering a lottery for a seat at a reputable charter school in Washington, D.C.

As Guggenheim explained, if the boy's number wasn't pulled, if he had to go to his assigned neighborhood school, he would learn less, die younger and be eight times more likely to go to prison.
Meanwhile, other speakers, including Bill Gates, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller, floated in and out with their own impressive presentations. They came armed with scary statistics about the dismal graduation rates, especially for Black and Latino students, and about education's relationship with our battered economy. (Read bios of the Get Schooled speakers)

The problem is few Blacks and Latinos were on stage or in the audience. Stephen Minix, the athletic director at L.A.'s Locke High, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Miller appeared. I saw the Rev. Al Sharpton take a seat in the crowd after the lights had gone down.

Yet it only makes sense to me that the people who have the most to gain from these changes are given at least an equal seat at the table and, if they're not offered one, demand it. We can't wave away the socioeconomic disparities that leave us with fewer African American and Latino CEOs and big money philanthropists to orchestrate these initiatives, but we also can't get anywhere if the people who know communities of color best, the ones who can offer context for closing the gap between the performances of white students and everyone else, aren't even in the room.

Sharpton and Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, wrote about this disparity in a January editorial in the Wall Street Journal: "Public education is supposed to be the great equalizer in America. Yet today the average 12th-grade black or Hispanic student has the reading, writing and math skills of an eighth-grade white student."

And even though, as Dauman said Tuesday, high school is the new college, one in three American students just don't finish. Those Black and Latino students are going to be among the most likely to drop out.

Still, we saw in the days leading up to President Obama's education speech at Wakefield High School that not everyone is rushing out to seek the opinions of people of color about issues that most affect ... people of color. It's not at all clear how much of the opposition to Obama's address had to do with people's prejudices. But it definitely showed suspicion and a reluctance to allowing Obama to use all his influence on this issue.

In fact, the whole day underscored that it's not always going to be easy for Blacks and Latinos to join this national conversation about improving education. But we all have to make sure it happens, because otherwise it's just a lot of the same old people talking about the same old problems, and we end up in the same place in another 40 years.

View the slideshow of celebrities at the Get Schooled event in LA
Heres how you can get involved:

Get Schooled: Info on writing your governor, sponsoring a program through your business and more.
Serve.gov: Find a volunteer opportunity in education.

Public Education Network: Read their list of 50 really simple things you can do to support public education.

Raechal Leoneis TheLoop21.com's senior editor and content manager.

Related Articles:

Blacks Determined Not to Miss Out on the Green Economy

Should Highly Educated Black Men Accept Special Treatment?

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