By Rev. Kyev Tatum
The politics of public education in Texas has become the center of attention at the statehouse and I’m concerned that many students, especially poor students of color, are not getting a fair hearing.
System leaders continue fighting to maintain the status quo, while demanding more money without demonstrating any record of academic success from African-American males.
With more than 650,000 in public schools, Texas leads the nation with the largest number of black kids in school. Yet the educational, developmental and disciplinary failure rate of our black children is the highest of any period in human history. Slavery produced better production outcomes than the current public school system. In fact, many of us have compared and described the current public school and prison systems as modern day plantations.
The current economy of education we have built cannot continue at this rate. I’m convinced that our education economy will collapse within less than 20 years unless we take dramatic measures to reform our school system. We cannot afford the school-to-prison pipeline – economically or morally. The numbers do not add up and the cost in human capital is inhumane.
Parents of all colors, cultures and classes are desperately looking for other options to help their children receive a quality education.
My heart cries out when mother after mother asks me for help because school officials refuse to hear their cries of help for their children. Our public schools have turned thousands of children into criminals for nonviolent incidents and the prison economy continues to benefit greatly because of our lack of concern for the human dignity of these families.
How do you tell a mother to send her child back into a classroom where an Arlington ISD teacher poured pencil shavings down his mouth? How can a student learn in a school environment where a teacher told him to “go back to Mexico”?
How can we with good conscience continue to ignore the huge mental health crisis that is expanding because we have embraced the foolish notion that children are criminal by nature and forget the fact that most of these children have a chemical imbalance impeding their educational, developmental and disciplinary interests.
The lack the proper nurturing and nourishing is causing the imbalance and our children do not deserve to be criminalized because of this chemical imbalance.
Again, our moral economy cannot sustain this senseless burden of failure. Contrary to popular belief, we do not advocate funding for parental school choice because we are against public schools. We continue to fight for school choice because the failure of the public school system to improve the educational, developmental and disciplinary interests of poor children has caused economic, educational and mental health crises within our poor communities. Unemployment rates are high, dropout numbers are unmanageable and many nonviolent children are spending far too much time in alternative, non-healthy learning environments.
It is discriminatory to force poor people to stay in schools that do not want them but in which they must stay because our state leaders do not have the courage to buck the system and support school choice. The research is clear: parental school choice, regardless of public or private, improves the educational, developmental and disciplinary interests of poor children.
Our great state currently gives poor parents money or vouchers to send their children to public or private child-care institutions and the state also give parents of economically disadvantaged students state funds to attend public or private colleges and universities such as Baylor, Paul Quinn, Rice, SMU, Texas Wesleyan University and TCU.
Yet this same state leadership refuses to give poor parents more K-12 options to help improve the educational, developmental and disciplinary interests of poor children. This is racist public policy and it’s destroying our black children, especially our black boys, beyond repair. Texas must rethink its position on education funding for school choice or risk a revolt of parents and children whose backs are against the wall.
Texas can and must do better. We cannot continue to support and embrace the complete collapse of public education system’s inability to properly educate, develop and discipline our poor children. We demand school choice and we believe as Malcolm X once said, “We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
Rev. Kyev Tatum is an ordained Baptist minister and president of the Texas Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. He can be reached at the Harmony Missionary Baptist Church.