By Michael Sweeney
“The charter school situation is a mess…self-serving individuals finance policies that don’t serve our children in the long run…It isn’t just about protecting your charter school, at least not if you care about other peoples’ children…I sure hope charter school parents will march and support UTLA…”
I came across that posting on social media the other night, and after my eyes were done rolling back to their proper place, I collected my thoughts. My first impression was that it seemed an awfully big ask. How could charter parents wholeheartedly support a union that actively seeks to shut down their children’s schools, habitually rallies against and creates a hostile environment for any co-location efforts and continually vilifies them with half-truths, untruths and divisive rhetoric at every turn? After being painted as the bad guy for so long, even in these very same strike negotiations, how is turning around and asking those same families for help not supposed to feel like a slap in the face? Isn’t it a bit like the photo negative of the old adage about biting the hand that feeds you…perhaps, in this case, feeding the mouth that bites you?
But as I thought more about it, it also occurred to me that maybe this could be an opportunity. At some point, if we are ever to get to the perfect world of collaboration and mutually beneficial relationships between all types of schools, particularly traditional public and charter, someone needs to be the proverbial bigger person and start extending some olive branches. Maybe somewhere in this ongoing strike, there could be a chance to foster some goodwill between the two sides. Of course, it would have to come with some assurances that once the picket signs were laid down and everyone returned to their respective classrooms, that the union wouldn’t turn right back around and continue to fight against the schools of the parents that had just provided support.
Full disclosure. I grew up attending an Inglewood public school for elementary school and junior high. I am now a parent of a child attending an LAUSD magnet school with teachers that are striking, teachers that I love and support and care about. But prior to this academic year, my daughter attended a wonderful, progressive independent charter school full of outstanding parents, teachers and administrators. I, myself, am also a former elementary school teacher, working first as a Kindergarten teacher at an independent charter school in Leimert Park for six years, then for four more years as a fifth grade math, science and writing teacher at an independent charter school in Boston. Having seen both sides -- as a teacher and parent -- I have both great concern for the well-being of traditional neighborhood schools, as well as much respect for the work being done at charters. And, frankly, it baffles and saddens me that the two are so often pitted against one another.
In my experience, it seems to be largely a one-sided war. Both as a teacher and a parent at charter schools, I really don’t ever remember there being much urge to compare themselves to, compete with or denigrate any surrounding schools public, private, charter or otherwise. The focus was almost entirely on the school itself, how to improve instruction and opportunity for the students there, and how to remain in compliance and the good graces of the always-watchful powers-that-be so that renewals would continue to be granted, and the schools could continue their work.