By Khulia Pringle
With the recent moratorium on Charter schools by the NAACP coupled with my trip to Memphis, Tennessee for a public hearing held by the NAACP about their moratorium, I am forced to reflect on how in the world we got here. How did I become a voice in opposition to one of the oldest and most black institutions in America?
I remember when I first made the commitment to go back to school to become an educator. One of the reasons I thought it would be cool to teach was that I’d get to teach all the stuff I never learned about in school, things that would have made a difference in how I felt about my own cultural identity. Ironically, the history of the NAACP was on my list of topics to teach. I wanted my students to learn about W.E.B. Dubois’ involvement in founding an organization dedicated to the advancement of people who look like my students. I wanted them to understand the monumental and historic Brown vs. Board of Education case led by the nation’s first black Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall. I knew in my head and my heart that these pieces of history had to be taught and I was going to be proud to make sure my students learned that the NAACP played a critical role in the struggle for civil rights in America.
As I embarked on my journey to become a teacher, I had the opportunity to work at a charter school in Minneapolis as a Promise Fellow. I was very impressed with what I saw happening in classrooms. I later did my student teaching at a charter school in Saint Paul and I came away impressed by their model too.
I saw schools that were doing things I hadn’t seen before — later I learned there was a word for what I was witnessing: innovation. Whatever it was, I liked it. The very first thing that jumped out at me was that both schools were run and founded by African Americans. I don’t think most people realize what a huge deal that is. How many schools do you know that are founded and lead by people of color? I live in Minnesota, and there aren’t many.
The second thing that I noticed were demographics of the student bodies. Both schools were more than 90 percent African American students. But what I found most significant was that these kids had come from all over the twin cities and the surrounding suburbs, when they could have attended school much closer to home. Parents were choosing to bring their kids to these two schools for a variety of reasons. I noticed in both schools that there was a focus on community partnership and parent engagement. Instruction and learning was student centered, equity was a daily conversation, and teachers were encouraged to try new things. And relationships were strong, providing the strong foundation of trust needed to make great things happen in schools.
The NAACP moratorium has put me in a hard and frustrating position. I am forced to say, NO, NAACP, these schools work for our kids and deserve a chance. Perhaps you should set your sights on the century old system that is letting far too many of us down. Parents are smart enough to make our own decisions if given the real deal on ALL their options. Don’t underestimate our ability, as parents, to determine which school provides the environment in which our children have the best chance to thrive.
The NAACP needs to show more respect to parents. Black parents overwhelmingly support charter schools and school choice in general as a way to advance our black children.
They need to do a better job of listening to and representing the people of color at the center of their mission.
Khulia Pringle is a mother, teacher, and parent organizer in St. Paul, Minnesota