Does Harlem Need Diddy or Educational Equity?

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

A few days ago, I said some things on my Facebook that I don’t regret:

I’m not a believer in celebrities taking the helm at schools, regardless of whether it’s public, charter, or private, unless they have an expertise in said craft. Schools are not music labels or headquarters for speaking engagements, but buildings with our young futures in them. Unbeknownst to him, I would see Dr. Steve Perry roam Harlem for years, knowing full well the visceral arguments we had online, knowing how acerbic and ad hominem his subtweets were shortly before I stopped paying attention to his nonsense.

But I could care less if I felt like the school in his charge was actually the oasis he had claimed for so long. Countless stories of ignored students, dismissed parents, and burnt staff at CT only speak to the ways we have diluted the words “good intentions.” Creating a social justice school requires more than changing the title of educators to illuminators. It requires that everyone at the school, beginning from the top, is about that social justice life. Pulling one’s pants up and speaking in degrading terms about black women in the hood is not that. A social justice school would require that so much more than I believe either Mr. Combs or Dr. Perry can muster, specifically the latter.

A few people called me a hater, and thought I needed to stop trying to down other people. In fact, my opinion was the “problem with black people.”

I don’t get it.

What does Harlem actually need? There are dozens of charter schools in the larger Harlem area, including the biggest names in the game like Success Academy, Harlem Village, and KIPP. That doesn’t include the dozens of public and few private / religious schools, all making the same claims towards educational attainment with varying degrees of success and varying measures for that success.

The idea that Mr. Combs would need to throw his hat into the ring only says to me that we’re willingly bamboozled by celebrity and its marker for expertise in any and all fields. We’ve bought into the idea that edu-hustlers like Steve Perry can come in any neighborhood and solve inequity by simply bringing more cameras and celebrities into a space. When real estate agents continue to sell off bits of Malcolm X’s old stomping grounds to six- to seven-figure vultures and proudly proclaim that their kids will only get to be exposed, in coded language, to the good black kids, I’m not sure how that’s saving anyone’s son, daughter, or neighborhood.

I’m hopeful that the students who do go to the school get the best promotion possible, but I remain skeptical because, once the shimmer, shine, and velour suits disappear, all the children have in their hands is their educational experiences at the school. Based on a myriad of critiques already available via a simple Google search, I have serious doubts and questions that we must all raise.

I’m willing to hear substantive critiques based on why we need another school creaming from the bright futures of Harlem, but, if the extent of the argument is that this building has a pool, then we need a better working definition of equity. Because, at this point, it’s shallow as f …