If you want platitudes about how dedicated and hard-working public school teachers are, do not read Dr. Steve Perry’s book, Push Has Come to Shove: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve — Even If It Means Picking a Fight (Crown, September 2011). However, if you want the unvarnished truth, as he sees it, about why your child — Black, White, poor, middle-class, urban or suburban — is getting an inadequate education in public school, this is the book you need.
The author is the founder and principal of Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., an urban school with a track record of sending 100 percent of its graduates to college. He also is a CNN contributor on education seen frequently on “Anderson Cooper 360” and “American Morning.”
Addressing parents directly from the vantage point of an insider, Perry presents an insightful and frightening view of the state of the American public school system, and he places much of the blame on teachers, or more specifically on the unions that represent them. It’s the unions that stand in the way of significant reforms — year-round schools, longer school days, school choice, vouchers — that could benefit students, he argues.
Following are excerpts from his interview with Diverse.
DI: In the book, you seem to be particularly hard on unions. How did you come to your views on that?
SP: What I have found, not just in our city, but throughout the country, is that the teachers unions — or in those states where they don’t have a teachers union, teachers associations — serve one purpose, and one purpose only, and that is to maintain the employment status of their members, and it is not to improve the product, that being education. They are the biggest problem in public schools.
… To me, the biggest crime against our communities is to protect failed teachers and to limit the access the community has to good teachers.
DI: What is it going to take to get everybody on the same page about the priorities and addressing some of the failures of the schools — to get the government, the schools, the unions, the parents working together?
SP: The same truth and vigor that it took to knock the legs of Jim Crow out from underneath him. This will take years, but I don’t think it will take as long. There is a movement afoot. I don’t care who I am talking to — radio, Tea Party radio, a Black nationalist newspaper, mainstream media — it is very difficult to find someone who supports the stands of the education unions.
DI: There is a movement afoot to do what?
SP: To make these changes. Parents are making decisions every day. Every year about this time they start deciding that they don’t want to go to their local schools. Hundreds of thousands of parents are making that decision each year. They’ve just had enough of failing schools and folks who take their children for granted. If they can’t pull their money, their tax dollars, out, they’ll pull their children out. They will pay for a seat that they will never occupy before they will put their child in the experiment of failure.
DI: What about those who can’t put their children in private school because they don’t have the money?
SP: That’s where vouchers come in. That’s where we need to speak truth to power and let people know that vouchers are good for you. It’s taking money already set aside for children and giving it to the children, as opposed to giving it to the school, ostensibly giving it to the adults, who don’t live in the community in most cases and whose children will never go to those schools, providing those people, including me, with multiple options.
DI: Who should read this book?
SP: Anybody who love kids. Anybody who loves our country and hopes for a future for both.
DI: If I have my kids in a private school, and we all have our educations and our advanced degrees, and we are all fine, why should I care?
SP: You should care because you paid for the public school, and with vouchers you could have a portion of that returned to your family that you could then invest in their college education, which is going to cost you a ton. If you pay $12,000 a year for a seat at the local school that you think is horrible or at least beneath your aspirations for your child, I think you should get the $12,000 back to send your child to the private school or at least be able to write $12,000 off on your taxes — some redress for the failures. D
— Angela P. Dodson is a longtime contributor to Diverse.