It has been said by many Black intellectuals that we ought not let our oppressors educate our children. Educating our own children is practical but also it’s big business. Indeed, since 1995 the Charter Schools Program has handed out over $4 billion to support charter schools. That’s a lot of money. Alarmingly, about $1 billion was found to be lost due to fraud or waste. Regardless of how you personally feel about charter schools, it is undeniable that we could have done plenty with that $1 billion. It is also clear in Black history that Black people have a long history of starting our own schools and doing it on a shoestring budget.
Mary McLeod Bethune started what we now know as Bethune-Cookman University with $1.50 — that’s one dollar and fifty cents — in 1904. Over one hundred years later, that $1.50 has multiplied into countless Black professionals. Today several Black celebrities are opening schools. Jalen Rose, LeBron James (public, not charter), Deion Sanders and a host of others have gotten in on the act. There seems to be a consensus that America has an educational crisis and as is usually the case, Black children suffer most in it. The same country that created this inequality and crumbling schools shouldn’t be viewed as our savior to fix any of it — self reliance and determination must guide Black people, as they always have. In the realm of education it is no different.
Some would argue that we should be completely independent with respect to education. Perhaps that is ideal and perhaps it isn’t feasible — there is also a question as to whether it is necessary. HBCUs generally had financial support from the federal government, a state legislature or other (non-Black) philanthropists. Even so, few would question the value of those institutions, historically. Today’s charter movement could be viewed through the same lens. Billions of dollars (of which Black people contribute through taxes) are being handed out to educate our children. Not only are we not benefitting financially in the whole scheme, we are also not in control of what our children are being taught. The entire equation is nonsense.
A great many charters schools have been launched as a way to make money. If the opportunity is present, it makes sense for Black people to also benefit. However, we must do so in excellence and not purely for profit, should we choose to dive in. Our children are our future and present. We must take control of their educational outcomes and ensure their future is rooted in a foundation of pride, excellence and self determination. Our children are, after all, our responsibility.