Ganelle Holman read the following remarks a State Board of Education meeting on the future of the Little Rock School District Thursday at Longley Baptist Church. She described herself as a five-generation Little Rock native, proud graduate of Little Rock Central High School and parent of a student.
Public education is the cornerstone of democracy. If you did not believe that, you wouldn’t be in this room tonight. You already know that without a free and quality public education system, democracy is weakened, and the rights and opportunities of the majority are sacrificed for those with the advantage of school choice. You also know that the majority of our students are black, and that often, transportation and location alone determine where they attend school.
You also know that there is a movement to privatize public education in this country through publicly funded, privately operated charter schools, many by for-profit companies. Vouchers and similar programs use public money to pay for private and religious school tuition or provide tax credits to people who contribute money for that purpose. And thus “school choice” becomes the code word for dismantling the country’s most important civic institution.
In Arkansas, we experienced the privatization process with state takeover of the LRSD. Commissioner Johnny Key has acknowledged in informal conversations about a new “West Little Rock” school district, implying that only the close of the Pulaski County desegregation case stands in the way of redistricting. Meanwhile, schools in black neighborhoods close and plans for privately operated charter schools are put in their place. With now four more years to placate the majority in roundtable discussions like these, the State Board of Education has likely bought enough time to still be in control of the district when and if that case closes, and without an exit plan in sight.
To be fair, privately operated charter schools, in and of themselves, are not the problem, and neither is school choice. The problem is that their impact, in the case of the LRSD, is the resegregation of the public school system. It matters not what the State Board of Education says the function of privatization is. When the impact is segregation, the stated purpose is inconsequential. By the time their pre-determined yet undefined plan for “reconstitution” is in place, our new public/private/charter hybrids will no longer be subject to the promise desegregation. I don’t need to tell you how hard Little Rock worked for that.
Thurgood Marshall said, in his closing argument in Brown v. Board of Education, that, “in order to arrive at the decision that they want us to arrive at, there would have to be some reason why, of all of the multitudinous groups of people in this country, you have to single out Negroes and give them this separate treatment.”
In order for us to believe that segregation is the necessary bi-product of publicly funded, privately operated charter schools, the state of Arkansas would have to explain why only these failing schools in this failing district have been taken from local control, to say nothing of the validity of their evaluation measurements in the first place.
Because our political power has been usurped, because our children deserve a free, inclusive, and quality education, and because the State Board of Education refuses to acknowledge its plan for privatization, and instead cloaks segregation in school choice, because the Little Rock School District should be so excellent that it IS the school choice, I am calling today for an act of civil disobedience. It was not easy for the Birmingham community to walk for over a year, but their actions talked money. Where we see Bronx, and Silas, and Gus, Cruz, and Evangeline, and Camille, the state of Arkansas sees dollar signs.
The time has come to exercise resistance. The state of Arkansas is not listening. The state of Arkansas does not care that all the poor children are “reconstituted.” They believe the outcome has already been determined. They have found their loophole, but they’ve forgotten that the state of Arkansas belongs to the people.
The key to our civil disobedience will be a critical mass of nonviolence, and no matter the method of protest, reaching that tipping point will be imperative. Black people have unceasingly held this country accountable to the idea of democracy. Our freedom-fighting muscles have been flexed. And while civil rights did not happen separate from the support of white allies, historically, progressive-minded white people, even those in agreement, urge restraint.
But we’ve seen almost 5 years of that behavior — both through public protests and closed-door conversations. If you have “school choice,” and you still care about parents who don’t, then you must ensure, at any cost, that, like Thoreau, you do not lend yourself to the wrong that you condemn. We must remember that it was not the groups who wished to maintain segregationist policies that hindered the civil rights movement, but rather the moderate “allies” who urged restraint.
Dr. King “reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” … Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. We need emulate neither the “do-nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest.”