Dear Bill and Melinda,
This morning many Americans watched Representative John Lewis [D-Georgia] speak about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s memorable “I Have a Dream” speech on Face the Nation. Lewis is the last surviving speaker at the 1963 March on Washington.
In a speech to the Urban League in 2011, you said:
“Education may be the hardest civil rights fight of all,” Gates said. “Discrimination is harder to prove and people often don’t know what levers to pull to fix the problem.” [emphasis added]
Listening to Lewis, today I am reminded again that you are pulling the wrong levers and of how far we had come. Lewis’ speech reminded me of your role as a “lever puller” and in particular of your influence on the civil rights community through the Urban League as you shifted all blame to teachers and PUBLIC schools for the impacts of civil rights issues in July, 2011.
But who says you and Melinda are experts on civil rights? Who says you are experts on education? The world knows that Dr. King, unlike you and Melinda, was an expert on civil rights, just like teachers are experts at education. You and Melinda seem to act as “experts” in areas that you know little about. Does money buy expertise?
It can if you go get your degree, like we did, but that does not apply in either case here. Neither of you have experience as minorities and neither of you got your degree in teaching – so NO, you are NOT experts – but money sure DOES buy “lever pulling”. Dr. King spoke from direct experience and knew very well who was “pulling the levers” from behind the curtain.
That day 50 years ago, Dr. King spoke of the Declaration of Independence and justice, he spoke of public education, and he spoke of a promissory note that I see you and the reformers shredding:
“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
Today, a symbol of MLK’s dream stands before us, through our nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama. But part of King’s dream has turned to a nightmare, with Obama signing off on the levers you have pulled.
As “lever pullers”, Bill and Melinda, you have written America’s children, parents, teachers, public schools and the nations’ civil rights communities a bad check.
I would argue that you and your reformers have created a giant hoax, that the effects are causing the end of public education and increased segregation. You “pull levers” to convince civil rights leaders – even our unions, both AFT and NEA – to take these self-destructive actions willingly through propaganda and money. You “pull levers” with these leaders, who were once a political firewall for civil rights.
What were the politics of the civil rights movement at that time and how do they compare to politics now?
At the time in 1963, John Lewis was 23 years old and the youngest speaker at the podium. At that time, Lewis spoke these words:
“We are now involved in a serious revolution. This nation is still a place of cheap political leaders who build their careers on immoral compromises and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic and social exploitation. What political leader here can stand up and say, “My party is the party of principles?…Where is our party?”
I wonder the same thing as a life-long Democrat. Ever since neoliberal Democrats for Education Reform and neoconservative GOPs joined hands to tear down civil rights, I wondered: “Where is OUR party?” Has Obama become compromised to build his own career by signing on the dotted line to enact your corporate education reforms? How has the Democratic Party changed when civil rights leaders have accepted your money then stood in support of reforms that fail Black and Latino children, fire Black and Latino teachers, and close schools where 9/10 children are Black and Latino?
At one time MY party would have stood alongside children whose schools were being closed instead of being the mayor closing them. At one time MY party would have stood alongside parents and children when a library was being bulldozed instead of being the mayor dozing it. At one time MY party would have walked the picket line with Chicago teachers and stood alongside Philly teachers, Detroit teachers, and certainly would have fought against what took place in NOLA’s public schools after Katrina. But no – DFERs stood by and actually work to help break unions today. DFERs help push reform agendas that fail kids, fire teachers, and close schools. But no, our first Black president is leading us down the path of the “lever pullers”. My party is no longer MY party.
Are Democrats for Education Reform really Democrats? Is there a political party that stands up for moral principles any more? Is there really a party that truly is standing up for the civil rights movement today? Is there really a party that stands up for workers? Can you convince us that your corporate reform is working for the civil rights movement? As Lewis asked: “What political leader here can stand up and say, “My party is the party of principles?…Where is our party?”
Try to convince Asean Johnson, the youngest speaker at this year’s March on Washington, a 9 year old student under Rahm Emanuel’s corporate reform in Chicago – that your corporate reform is “for the civil rights movement”.
Asean told the crowd gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to honor Dr. King and continue the fight for civil rights:
“Every school deserves equal funding and resources,” he said Saturday. “I encourage all of you to keep Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream alive. Help us fight for freedom, racial equality, jobs, and public education, because I have a dream that we shall overcome.” – Asean Johnson
Let’s talk about what goes along with that equal funding and resources Asean talks about. In your 2009 annual letter to the Gates Foundation, you wrote:
“The private high school I attended, Lakeside in Seattle, made a huge difference in my life.”
Clearly, your own children, the children of President Barack Obama, and Rahm Emanuel’s children do not attend schools where your own corporate reforms are implemented. Why don’t you encourage the same kinds of equitable Lakeside-type education opportunities – minus all those reforms – rich experiences like you and your kids have experienced – for all? Now THAT we could get behind… THAT would be civil rights… THAT would be MLK’s dream. That check would not bounce with injustice, Bill and Melinda. Diane Ravitch wrote about this here. Diane argues:
“What I want to challenge here is the assertion that “some of us don’t want” what the best private schools have to offer.
Who wouldn’t want what Sidwell offers? Or Exeter? Or Lakeside Academy in Seattle?
Who wouldn’t want classes of 12-15 instead of 35-40?
Who wouldn’t want a beautiful campus?
Who wouldn’t want experienced, respected teachers?
Who wouldn’t want a rich curriculum with science labs, history projects, drama and music, and lots of sports every day?
Who wouldn’t want to go to a school that never gave standardized tests and didn’t judge teachers by students test scores?
Maybe there are such people. I have never met them. Maybe they work at Fordham or the Gates Foundation, but I doubt it.”
The equitable funding Asean Johnson is demanding is not being realized by the check you have written, Bill and Melinda. Instead we get “lever pulling”. Instead we get “Zero Tolerance”. Instead we get Teach for America 5-week-summer-camp trainees given unearned “highly qualified” status. Instead we get large class sizes, often crammed with 30-40 children. Instead we get segregated schools through private charters that are often not held accountable at all and work around Brown vs Board of Education. Instead we get CCSS and high stakes testing. Instead we get MET and video cameras in every classroom. Instead we get a school-to-prison pipeline, fired teachers, closed schools and our libraries bulldozed.
The racism brought by corporate reform is dangerous. Corporate reform is dangerous to children, parents, teachers, public schools and communities. It is dangerous to democracy itself, and therefore – for all of these reasons – corporate reform is dangerous to the civil rights communities and the civil rights movement. In fact, it is dangerous to all children.
Corporate reform brings us a 3 tiered educational system of injustice. This danger brings with it, a sense of urgency.
Dr. King had more to say about the urgency to refuse the bad check of injustice doled out by people pretending with their propaganda, people such as yourself. He continued…
“But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
Now is the time. Bill and Melinda, we want the civil rights community to listen to Asean Johnson, John Lewis, and Dr. King. It sounds like they are beginning to listen, as Diane Ravitch notes here:
“A large national alliance of civil rights organizations has joined under the umbrella heading of “Journey for Justice.”
This coalition has called for the resignation of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.”
Now is the time. Your corporate reform is destroying the progress earned by blood during the 237 years since America was formed and 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted. The civil rights community ought to be acting with a sense of urgency.
Now is the time. Bill and Melinda, we would like America’s civil rights community to wake up to the fact that they have been duped by your money and send that corporate reform bad check you’ve written to them back to you “lever pullers” marked “return to sender – insufficient funds – injustice denied”.
For social justice and in memory of Dr. King,
Susan DuFresne, Kindergarten Teacher, Special Education and General Education, Co-Author, Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates