“”If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, that is not progress. Even if you pull it all the way out, that is not progress. Progress is healing the wound, and America hasn’t even begun to pull out the knife.” — Malcolm X
Let me be clear. It’s great news that Sharp, a clearly beloved, highly accomplished, traditional public school in Camden’s Cramer Hill Neighborhood, has parental and community support. It’s not been that often in my time here in Camden that we see a headline such as Jubilation as Camden school closure nixed.
The district said that it would listen to parents and community, and, unsurprisingly (if you’ve followed the extreme unpopularity of school closures in Newark, Philadelphia, or anywhere else) the community said “no.”
This is positive. It’s also important to note the broader context in which this happened and why it happened. Which is to say this: it’s wonderful to see the district listening to parents one a particular issue, but it’s worth noting that the rights or parents have been systematically stripped by this system.
Sharp was a particular case. The closure was suggested by a principal (not the district). The school that stood to gain by the closure (technically, a merger, though we know from history that merged schools that they rarely keep distinct identities) was a state-approved charter, not the more politically in-favor Renaissance schools. Sharp had good test scores. The Cramer Hill community had a latino community that has a history of activism (particularly fighting Cherokee) and came at moment when both our State Senator (Nils-Cruz Perez) and top mayoral candidate (Moran) draw primary support from that community.
Which is all to say that, we saw many of these same characteristics (relatively high test scores, parents/community supporting the school) at McGraw when its closure was proposed. But the efforts there were dead upon arrival — parents collected signature, protested, and found little place to put these efforts.
It’s wonderful that parental voice were heard in this case. It does not change that they had no rights and were completely at the mercy of a state-run school district about whether their school would be closed. It does not change that both the state and the district have approved so many charter and renaissance schools and seats that the every student in the district could fit in those approved slots. It does not change that the school district opened new schools (popular with some parents) while avoiding the inevitably unpopular school closures and that the community will need to make heartbreaking choices about school closures in the future.
Let me put it another way. Parents as so stripped of influence and ability, that there is jubilation because the district (which had no dog in this fight) listened to them.
So let’s celebrate this choice by the school district. Let’s celebrate a community that rallied to protect its beloved institution. But let’s also recognize that systems and structures are such that parents and residents have been stripped of their rights and influence. Imagine a world where residents didn’t have to be jubilant when their public officials listened to them. Imagine a world when Camden community didn’t need to hope they were heard, because they could assert their own rights. Imagine a world where the stars didn’t need to align to keep Sharp open.
And then imagine what education in the city of Camden would look like if that world really existed.