“The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political “football game” that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives.”

– Malcolm X

My colleague Beth Hawkins has a piece in The Seventy Four that tells the story of how the push for racial integration in Minnesota is being used as a clever weapon against charter schools serving communities of color. I can’t improve on her storytelling, she is an award winning education writer after all, but I can contrast her work with a poorly written piece in The Progressive written by Sarah Lahm.

The difference between the two pieces is not unlike the difference between Japanese calligraphy and what one’s toddler might do with a crayon on a bedroom wall while angry.

I can’t know Lahm’s motivations. I’ll let you read her piece and decide for yourself. But, it is ironic to me that her take on public school integration is the product of a whiter-than-white network that needs to eat its own pudding.

For context, her story is about a desegregation lawsuit filed against the State of Minnesota by Dan Shulman, a Twin Cities attorney. Shulman’s suit received technical assistance from Myron Orfield. Good people can argue about the merits of the case, and about the potential of large integration programs to increase student achievement for historically marginalized students.

My trouble with the lawsuit is that it redefines “segregation” to include charter schools that use culturally affirming curriculum to create positive learning environments for racially identifiable student populations.

Their gold-standard remedy? To bus black, brown, American Indian, Hmong, and low-income students out of their neighborhoods into the white hinterlands of Minnesota suburbs where they can be assimilated for their own good.

Most people of color that I know are not against integration. Many are for it. But this proposal is not the product of people of color. It is a radical, top-down plan to make major revisions to the structure of schools, without any input from people in marginalized communities.

Does that sound familiar?

I spent last summer listening to people tell me about a small group of white people who completely changed the landscape of public education in New Orleans. Folks like Jennifer “Edushyster” Berkshire were eager to tell that story.

Now, Berkshire’s colleague at The Progressive tells the Minnesota takeover story a little differently.

Whose story is it?

First, let’s look at The Progressive, those good liberals from Madison, Wisconsin (the state named worst place for black families).

progressive board

Looks like black people have yet to be invented in Madison.

No worries, they have Jeff Bryant, a teachers’ union contractor, who runs a “fellows” program at The Progressive made up of union approved writers. Lahm is one of Bryant’s “fellows.”

Here’s Jeff…


Here is Sarah….

Sarah Lahm is photographed at her home in Minneapolis, Minn., on Thursday, June 27, 2013. She's is opting all three of her children out of the state math and reading tests next school year. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

Here is Shulman, the attorney who filed the suit in Minnesota…

dan shulman

And, finally, this is Orlfield…

Myron Orfield, professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, in his office on Monday, February 17, 2014. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)


This highly ideological group adorned with all the appropriate equity ornaments, have a plan for us that is fatally bereft of any nutritional value for people of color. Under their push for a metropolitan area school district we would end up with choices limited to traditional, district run, unionized, bureaucratized schools that are stubbornly resistant to accountability for achieving results with children of color?

We would lose the right to educate our own children, in our own communities, using curriculum specifically designed to affirm the culture of our children. This includes small, safe, popular schools that routinely make the “beat the odds” list for making out sized growth with poor student of color.

Many in our community oppose that plan.

The Minneapolis NAACP refused to join the Shulman/Orfield lawsuit. Their president happens to be a law professor, Nekima Levy Pounds. She’s also a vocal Black Lives Matter protester who supports black schools and rejects the idea that the only way to successfully educate black children is to ship them off to the suburbs.

This is Nekima….

Nekima Levy-Pounds

This is Bill Wilson, founder and leader of Higher Ground Academy, a school with a majority African student population. He is an elder in this community who lived through real segregation as a child in Indianan.

He also rejects the comparison of black schools of choice to yesteryear’s racially exclusive, inferior schools.

This is Bill….

bill wilson

In the past Lahm has attacked Eric Mahmoud, leader of the Harvest Network of schools. Once his schools started showing up on the state’s “beat the odds” list he became a target for incessant take downs. His schools are a labor of love that consistently outperform other public schools on Minneapolis‘ depressed Northside.

This is Eric…

eric mahmoud

And, there is Nell Collier, a veteran educator who came out of retirement to turnaround a small south Minneapolis charter school that specializes in arts and academics for poor students. That school, Friendship Academy, is tops on the “beats the odds” list.

Nell is on the left….

nell friendship

And, there is T.C. Ellis. He turned his relationship with Prince and the music industry into the High School For Recording Arts, a school that attracts former dropouts back to school where they will be supported and motivated.

T.C. is holding the folder to the left….


Finally, there is Chanda Smith Baker, president of Pillsbury United Communities, a 130 year old agency that serves families and children. PUC also authorize charter schools that serve students considered disposable by the traditional school district, and other charter schools.

Here’s Chanda…chanda smith

I know most of these people personally. Not one of them is perfect. Not one of them is trying to be. Each is a proud product of the black community, and each is working on a grounded vision for delivering on the great potential of black people.

They are in the struggle, everyday, engineering culturally relevant schools that focus on academic results.

I look at the difference between Hawkins’ and Lahm’s storytelling. They are both white liberals, yet one tells a story respectful of the humanity of black people on the ground, while the other scribbles with disdain for them.

It reminds me of words from our past:

Dr. King said “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Malcolm X added “only a fool would let his enemy educate his children.”

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


  1. Chris:
    Just want you to know I’m out here in cyberspace reading your work, learning a ton, respecting your voice, and endeavoring not to be the kind of white liberal Malcolm X referenced in your opening quote.
    I’m grateful for your passion.
    Come to the Humphrey School on January 26th for our Forum on School Choice. I’d love to see you.

    • Thanks so much Laura! You have always been a real deal ally. Happy New Year! I’ll try to make it on the 26th if I’m in town. If not, lunch at the Lucky Dragon?

  2. Chris you always bring new understanding and clarity for me where I’m an outsider. Thanks again for the opportunity to join you on Rock the School again this week. Like Laura, I endeavor to keep my whiteness in check, and my mind open to the perspectives and voices from the communities of which I work. Flex Academy has struck a unique demographic balance compared to others in the charter community. Shulman’s lawsuit won’t impact our school, but that does not mean I don’t have any skin the game. Cindy Lavoratto is drafting a comprehensive memorandum with support from Joe Nathan and others close to the ground in the MN charter community to present to the MN Legislature in effort to stop this obvious effort to dismantle the success of many charter schools serving under represented communities.

  3. Charter schools are a scam. All peer reviewed research shows this. A mere conduit of public money to reach corporate coffers. I do support affirmative action to ensure more Poc filling important offices. Funny you don’t pictures of the Gates or Walton Foundation board members.

      • So have you read the most recent studies on retention of teachers of color? Because charter schools, it turns out, make it very difficult

      • Far from it, but charter schools are far more insidious than traditional schools. Again I do not oppose reform. However the big foundations have the goal of shifting public attitude so that the wealthy either get to skim more from spending or have the obligation to contribute less. Affirmation and representation are laudable goals that are not mutually exclusive from a traditional district.

        Blaming teachers is a favorite pastime of the super-rich. The rich know that in order to have any semblance of equality there is going to be a massive redistribution of wealth. They like their position, so they resist. Blaming generational poverty on teachers is easy, taxing rich folks at a level comparable to what is seen in other OECD countries is hard. I personally will resist all attempts to privatize the schools in my community.

  4. “Good people can argue about the merits of the case, and about the potential of large integration programs to increase student achievement for historically marginalized students.”

    Can good people argue respectfully and productively?

  5. There is if you assume that all “whites” enjoy it and are unable to comprehend it. You praise a misguided white so called liberal such as Beth Hawkins because she assumes that real white liberals don’t get it. They are trying to integrate the schools to spread white ideals to black and brown children. What you don’t get is that people like her aren’t on your side at all. They use you to sound legitimate because you both have an anti-public school agenda. They pretend to care about these children and you actually do (so it seems).


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