Newark’s political and organizational leaders will, I know, scoff at this but, right now, the leaders of the struggle against “One Newark” and the privatization of public education are the hundreds of high school students who early this morning marched from three high schools to Military Park and who, tomorrow, are expected to take even bolder action against the policies of Cami Anderson, her puppet master Chris Christie and Christie’s privatization guru, Cory Booker.
That doesn’t mean a few hundred high school students from Science Park, Arts, and Central will bring down Anderson but what it does mean is this: For now, they are keeping the fight alive, they are serving as the conscience of the Newark community, and they are reminding everyone that real people–mothers and fathers and children–are hurt every day by the disruption caused by this mindless reorganization plan.
No one listens to poor parents when they can suck up to Anderson, Hespe, and Christie. Poor parents can do nothing for anyone’s career.
The students–and the students alone– are making personal sacrifices for a righteous cause –and that cannot be said of any other group. Not the ministers. Not the unions. Not the politicians.
This morning I spoke with a courageous 15-year-old young woman, a sophomore at Arts High School, who knew precisely why she was supporting the action organized by the Newark Students Union.
“My little brother is in the first grade and he hasn’t been to school yet,” she said.
Other students said much the same–they were members of families whose lives had been unfairly and capriciously torn asunder because an unaccountable, unsupervised megalomaniac named Cami Anderson has an idea for reform. An idea that was untested, unapproved, untried.
The students took risks to attend the rally. At Science Park High School, the principal, Lamont Thomas–whose own career was saved by anti-Anderson sentiment in the city after he received an unfair evaluation from Cami–warned boycotting students about the consequences of not attending class and, possibly, missing tests.
“We were told teachers decided to give tests that day, just a week after school began,” said Hector Maldonado, a NSU leader. “They were playing games with us.”
If these students fail, if “One Newark” succeeds and, as Booker has hoped, Newark becomes the charter capital of the state, teachers–far more than students–will be the victims. Kiss tenure, bargaining, grievance procedures–kiss it all good-bye.
True, those who oppose “One Newark” have to be realistic. Once the ministers failed to live up both to their own principles and the sentiments they expressed in last spring’s letter–once the unions failed to back the boycott–once parents, frightened and overburdened simply by the struggle to survive in one of New Jersey’s ignored cities, chose to send their children to schools–once the media turned the other way–once all of that happened, Anderson could laugh at her opponents, accept her new three-year contract, and move ahead with her plan. Even Mayor Ras Baraka could fume and rage but it hasn’t made a difference at all.
“I don’t know what’s happened,” Deborah Smith-Gregpry said to me this morning at the student rally at Military Park. She heads the Newark NAACP.“This is so important and yet the parents, I don’t know, they’re frightened.”
Except for the students, Newark has more or less quietly accepted its role as the uncomplaining stepchild of New Jersey, willing to allow Christie to be the “decider,” as he has called himself. The decider. The master. The overseer who provides no oversight.
Wilhelmina Holder, head of the Secondary School Coalition, came to the rally after speaking with parents at the so-called “enrollment center.” She was outraged by what she heard there–many parents still without placements for their children. Gregory-Smith was incensed about the transportation plan that wasted money and failed to bring children to school on time.
“It’s not working,” she said.
But, and this is important–IT DOESN’T MATTER. Failure doesn’t matter because there is simply no way to prove , to show, to demonstrate Anderson’s plan has failed. Media like the Anderson-adoring Star-Ledger and the Christie-controlled NJTV take her word for what is happening and there is no oversight from anyone.
What’s going on in Newark is an illusion of perfect calm and organization created by Anderson with no accountabillity, with no outside access to the real statistics, with no one inside 2 Cedar Street willing to provide the information essential for the people of Newark to make a judgment on how “One Newark” is operating. Hespe, the education commissioner, is clearly under orders to make Anderson look good as possible, and he is doing what he is told to make his boss Christie happy.
The adults have all these reasons to look away from the injustice of “One Newark.” They are afraid. They do what they are told.
Yes, John Abeigon, laugh at me, laugh at the students. Call us unrealistic. Make up all the excuses you want.
But, on Wednesday, the students will do what you and your organization should have done months ago. What the ministers–who, I am sure, often base Sunday sermons on Selma–have failed to do.
The young people will stop playing by the rules prescribed for them by gangsters like Christie, Hespe, and Anderson and, for a moment, at least, they will focus the attention of the city, the state and, one hopes, the nation, on the evil that is Christie’s plan to end public education and public employee unions in Newark.
Be safe, young men and women. Be our leaders Wednesday. You will be remembered.