By Rashidah Shakir-Blackshere
I don’t like politics, and I don’t particularly like politicians. Politics don’t put food on my table or keep me warm at night, and despite the passionate campaigning (at best) and mudslinging (at worst) that have begun to characterize the March 7 Los Angeles School Board election, politics don’t teach a child. When I heard that the funders of LAUSD board president Steve Zimmer’s campaign recently attempted to sully the reputation of City Charter Schools during his quest for an extended 5 1/2 reelection term, my first thought was, “Why has the education of our children turned into such a battlefield?”
As my son neared the end of preschool a few years ago, I was more than willing to reduce my work schedule, become a homeschooler and educate him myself, given my husband’s and my own disenchantment with LAUSD’s low-performing schools throughout the city and in our South Los Angeles neighborhood in particular. A popular alternative for some of the parents who live near us in Baldwin Hills was to bus or carpool their children 15 miles northwest to Bel Air to attend a well-known magnet/charter school. Really?
Then in late 2012, this email arrived in my inbox: “Come to an informational meeting for The City School West Adams! Our charter school will be a high-performing, diverse elementary school with a constructivist language immersion program.” I was thrilled at the thought of sending my son to a neighborhood school with a progressive curriculum that reflected the faces and backgrounds of the diverse community we live in. Along with dozens of other founding parents, my husband and I devoted hundreds of volunteer hours and raised thousands of dollars hosting yard sales, selling baked goods, hawking glasses of lemonade, chicken dinners, arts and crafts -- you name it -- to help make the school, now called City Language Immersion Charter, a reality.
We helped found CLIC for three important reasons:
1) We believe in bilingual education. In a city as culturally rich and diverse as Los Angeles, every child should have the opportunity to learn a second language. Language immersion improves critical thinking, accelerates problem solving and enhances written and verbal communication skills.
2) We believe in a fully inclusive student body. CLIC offers a student population that enrolls 46.5 percent Latino, 28 percent African American, 17.8 percent white, 1.3 percent Asian and 6.4 percent who identify as multi-racial. This means my African-American son sees himself reflected in many of his schoolmates, but he also has the pleasure of interacting with a diverse blend of kids from a variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, religious faiths and abilities.
3) We believe in an enlightened educational philosophy, one grounded in community respect, shared governance, perseverance, empathy and altruism. These are values CLIC reinforces daily through its progressive curriculum, cultural excursions (locally and abroad), and parent/teacher activism.
I don’t know how often Zimmer travels to South LA, given that we’re not a part of his West Side district. But if he’d like to pay a visit to our campus he’ll see over 50 percent of our kids eating hot breakfast or lunch because their parents’ income is at (or just above) the federal poverty level. It might surprise him to see teachers toting bottled water into classrooms when LAUSD fails to repair water fountains on the campus where we co-locate -- again. If a campus like ours is supported by the “billionaires” Zimmer’s flyers refer to, then he should drive by our campus when it’s on lockdown. Police helicopters fly overhead or quarantine the local streets in search of something or someone potentially dangerous.
I wonder if he’d accuse City Charter Schools of fulfilling “Trump’s agenda” if he had watched dozens of our children march down Martin Luther King Blvd. in the Crenshaw District on Jan. 16 holding signs and banners and donning costumes honoring their favorite cultural s/heroes, including the greatest civil rights leader our country has known. Zimmer spews divisive and inflammatory comments about the state of education from inside a soundproof bubble of power and exclusivity. He’s not listening to us, so is it a surprise that so many parents across the city have begun to take the education of our children into our own hands?
Public education shouldn’t be fraught with economic inequality, racial segregation or outdated curricula. Unfortunately, in many American cities, including Los Angeles, that is the painful reality. CLIC offers a remedy for what ails many dissatisfied parents: a compassionate, academically progressive community where every child, no matter where he or she comes from, has an equal opportunity to flourish.
Come pay us a visit, Mr. Zimmer. Take the 405 south, then head east on the 10.
-- Rashidah Shakir-Blackshere is an English teacher, a founding parent of CLIC and a mom to a second-grade son, Dylan