In a recent article that’s gotten a lot of social media buzz, Ta-Nehisi Coates critiques the way that Barack and Michelle Obama address black America. He did a great job so I’m not going to touch on his arguments. But what jumped out at me as I read Coates’ article, was the First Couple’s message on education.
It’s no surprise that the Obama’s were talking about education. Coates’ critique was inspired by Michelle Obama’s commencement speech at Bowie State and Barack Obama’s commencement address at Morehouse. But I was shocked at the disconnect (hypocrisy) of what the Obamas had to say.
Michelle really went in:
Today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more then 50 years after the end of “separate but equal,” when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.
If the School in your neighborhood isn’t any good, don’t just accept it. Get in there, fix it. Talk to the parents. Talk to the teachers. Get business and community leaders involved as well, because we all have a stake in the building schools worthy of our children’s promise.
The president had some points to make as well.
I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. But one of the things you’ve learned over the last four years is that there’s no longer any room for excuses. I understand that there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: “excuses are tools of the incompetent, used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.”
We’ve got no time for excuses — not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven’t. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that’s still out there… Whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and overcame.
The president also explained to the Morehouse grads that while racial oppression doesn’t exist like it used to, there is still work to be done in the black community.
Too few of our brothers and sisters have the opportunities you’ve had here at Morehouse. In troubled neighborhoods all across the country – many of them heavily African-American – too few of our citizens have role models to guide them. Communities just a couple miles from my house in Chicago. Communities just a couple miles from here. They’re places where jobs are still too scarce and wages are still too low; where schools are underfunded and violence is pervasive; where too many of our men spend their youth not behind a desk in a classroom, but hanging out on the streets or brooding behind bars.
Where to start…
Under Obama’s administration, communities across the United States have faced school closures at an unprecedented level. Most recently, Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission approved the closure of 23 schools, the Chicago Board of Education announced that it was closing 49 schools, and DC is set to shutter 15 schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost 4,000 schools have been closed since Obama was sworn in in 2009.
This is no coincidence. Among other things, Obama’s Race to the Top Fund provides financial incentives for school districts to charterize (which drains funds from public schools) and close “failing” schools. Before Obama named him Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan was an early pioneer of school closure and charterization as Superintendent of Chicago’s schools.
While communities across the country have been harmed by these policies, black and brown communities have suffered the most. A recent study revealed that while only 42% of Chicago’s public school students are black, 90% of the students at the 72 Chicago schools that have been closed since 2001 are black. Unfortunately, this is a nationwide trend.
When it comes to education, the Obama’s words don’t match up with their actions. If young people find themselves out of school and in the streets of Philadelphia, Obama’s home city of Chicago, or his second home city of Washington DC, it’s likely that their school was closed as a result of Obama’s policies. And if those young people are overwhelmingly black and brown, maybe that’s because Obama’s punitive education policies target them more than their white counterparts. There is a crisis in our education system. Unfortunately instead of fighting to improve schools as Michelle Obama implored in her Bowie State address, the Obama administration is simply closing their doors.