The Call for Community Control Over Public Schools

For many in Black and brown communities all across the country, folks are divided when it comes to their feelings and stances towards the public education system. Some feel that it’s a cesspool of violence and a place where students are trained like robots to assimilate to white European history, standards and are taught things that are never going to be used in their adult lives at all. On the flipside some people in Black and brown community understand that the public education system is heavily flawed but do their best as educators, parents, students, and staff to try and make it better anyway that they can. You might ask where do I stand on this topic? The answer for me is I believe in community control over our public schools in order for us to see the changes in our children’s education that we really want to see.

Now some may say that it’s never gonna happen, that the system will never let us have control over our schools and that we should just abolish the school system all together. In a perfect world that sounds great, I would love for us to have our own schools where we can make sure our children are safe, learn their true history, things that help them become a creative adult that makes not only their families proud but become someone that our community can be proud of as well. In reality, why ‘abolish schools’ when we’re not abolishing other things that are low quality quality within our communities, like these supermarkets that sell unhealthy and expiring food to our people, or these hospitals and clinics that are filled to the brim with medical racism, where Black people particularly Black women are dying left and right? Or how about these smoke shops and restaurants that aren’t owned by us and don’t give anything back to our communities? But just like with prison abolition, the powers that be aren’t going to give us anything — which means we have to take it!

Historically, Black and brown people have always looked at education as a human right which it is. Back on April 22, 1969, over 200 Black and Puerto Rican CUNY students took over 17 buildings at City College, they closed the south campus for 2 weeks. Their white comrades shut down the North campus as a show of solidarity. This direct action came about because City College’s Black and Latino students only made-up 9 percent of the student body back in 1969, the Black and Puerto Rican students were fighting for open admissions and Black and Latino studies. John Lindsay, who was NYC’s mayor at the time along with other public officials, eventually gave into the students demands. They not only made City College have an open admissions policy, but they also created a remedial program to help students who needed extra support. We can always look to history to guide us in the present and into the future, because the same problems that students like Charles Powell and Mary McRae, who were apart of this massive direct action, are the same issues that are plaguing us today. 

While some things change, most will remain the same. While there have been some drastic changes made to the education system in NYC since 1969, now Black and brown students are facing new obstacles in the quest for a quality education. In 2023 we got Eric Adams, our mayor who recently announced budget cuts to every city agency except police and firefighters, as he claims the influx of migrants coming to NYC is putting a strain on resources, which we all know is a lie. He’s cut funding to the New York Public Library system here, which has provided a safe haven for our youth who don’t have many safe spaces for them to go to. He’s cut funding to everything except the NYPD, which has already seen a ridiculously high jump in a salary increase since his term as mayor began. 

I would say now more than ever this is the need for a city-wide student organizing to combat these oppressive tactics that have been thrusted upon them. A unified coalition with grassroots political organizers, students, parents and some staff members that have solidarity with the students would be incredibly hard to stop. Now some people may say, why doesn’t everyone just home-school their children? There’s a segment of our community that believe that home-schooling is the solution to the flaws within the public school system. Now just to be clear I’m not here to knock anyone who’s doing what they feel is best for their child in any shape or form. I just don’t agree that homeschooling is the end all solution to fixing public schools, home-schooling is an individual solution that can’t solve a systemic and institutional problem and I’m a break it down why it isn’t.

For one home-schooling is a luxury that not every parent can afford to do, parents that have children with severe learning disabilities, physical disabilities and or autism can’t just leave their children in front of a laptop, tablet or phone at home by themselves. The other thing is even if you remove your child from the school your tax dollars are still going to that public school flawed and all. Aside from the normal cons of home-schooling such as a lack of motivation for students, a lack of qualified educators, less social interaction among students there’s one factor that people normally don’t think about. Home-schooling is an individual privilege that can’t be substituted as a community solution to an institutional problem. Anyone who thinks by taking their kids out of public schools is going to radically change the public education system for the better is terribly mistaken due to the fact the problems and the system is still going to be there regardless if your child attends or not. 

Assuming that home-schooling will be the kryptonite for all public education issues, is almost like someone suggesting that when our communities are plagued with poverty, a lack of quality housing, mental health resources, gun violence, among other issues, that the solution is to move out the community and never look back. You would say that’s not a real solution, because the problems are still going to be there and everyone doesn’t have the upward mobility to just move out like that. In conclusion, I understand that everyone is going to do what they feel is best for their child, as they should; but for the majority of us, public education is the one thing not only worth fighting for, but it is also a human right.