On a frigid afternoon days before Super Bowl XLVII, crowds of football fans and reporters hustled past about 20 protesters across from Newark’s $300 million Prudential Center, and the crown jewel of a nascent downtown rebirth. Inside, Gov. Chris Christie took the opportunity to forget his Bridgegate troubles. Out in the 12-degree cold, the demonstrators were led in their opposition to state-proposed school closings by Ras Baraka, a Newark principal, son of the late poet and Black political theorist Amiri Baraka, and a candidate to replace Cory Booker as Newark’s next boss. In a series of exclusive interviews, Ras Baraka told EBONY about trying to wrest control of urban “Apartheid schools” back from state governments, turning his city into a laboratory for 21-Century urban revival, and his father’s enormous legacy.
EBONY: You’re protesting the state’s plan to reorganize Newark’s schools. Why should parents outside Newark care?
RAS BARAKA: The state intervened here in Newark because the people fought so they could get more resources, but that hasn’t been the case. People don’t believe our parents in Newark, or in other urban areas, have the skill to guide education, which is why we have these state takeovers and paternalistic attitudes towards parents. I think the power belongs to the parents. They should have the right to control their children’s education like any other community. The debate we’re having right now, about closing schools, I don’t think it has anything to do with school reform.
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EBONY: But schools in Newark and other cities are struggling and losing students. What’s the debate really about?
RB: A lot of the things that have been touted as making incredible changes in schools have failed miserably. The problem is that five or six corporate leaders, two or three politicians are deciding, “this is what we’re going to do,” with education instead of a groundswell of people asking, “What kids are learning? Is it relevant to their lives? Are the teachers prepared? What is it we’re asking kids to do every day in school?”
EBONY: You’ve said that Newark schools are “double-Apartheid” schools. What’s that mean?
RB: American education is still segregated. In Newark, the schools are over 80% African American and Latino and there’s also over 80% poverty. They come to the school with a lot of deficits. But the real segregation is in the curriculum because there are things other kids learn that our kids don’t have access to. So this whole idea that our kids can’t pass the state tests…a lot of kids haven’t been introduced to the information on the state test. Of course they’re gonna fail it, because they haven’t even seen it. You give test them on things they’ve never had, then say the school is failing and it should close. Every educator in Newark knows that but nobody says anything. They just let them fail.
Source: EBONY | Keith Reed