By Chinta Strausberg
The Rainbow PUSH Excel panelists late on November 19 compared the educational agendas of past presidents and found the current Trump administration’s not only failed miserably but it also smacked of being anti-Black.
In a spirited discussion about “Shaping America’s Education Agenda,” moderated by Dr. Sonya Whitaker, National Director for Education Policy for PUSH Excel, the panelists including the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. listed several recommendations they want President-elect Joe Biden to adopt.
The other panelists were: Rev. Janette Wilson, National Director of Education/PUSH Excel; Dr. Julianne Malveaux, President, PUSH Excel; Dr. Donna Leak, Vice Chair for Illinois State Board of Education; Dr. Dhanfu Elston, Chief of Staff & Senior Vice President for Strategy At Complete College America; and Dr. Glenda Glover, President of Tennessee State University.
Dr. Whitaker blasted Trump and his Department of Education for issuing his 1776 Commission to promote the Patriots education. In signing the executive order aimed at countering the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which is an ongoing initiative to reframe the history of America by teaching the truth about slavery and the contribution of Blacks, Trump described the acclaimed series “ideological poison” and “toxic propaganda that if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together. It will destroy our country,” he said calling the series a “moral decline holding that America is a wicked and racist nation.
”Trump announced that the National Endowment of the Humanities awarded a grant “to support…a pro-America curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation.”
He vowed to yank federal funds from schools teaching the New York Times’ 1619 Project that teaches accurate history about slavery as the root of white racism. Trump also ordered all federal agencies to discontinue racial sensitivity training, including any mention of white privilege he says “undercuts the nation’s core values.”
“This is an official executive order out of the White House that exists today that says if the training makes people uncomfortable while having a conversation that federal dollars—which the new administration now has access to—cannot be spent,” Whitaker said.
Dr. Malveaux agreed with Whitaker saying, “It is consistent with everything else he has done since he has been the president of the U.S. Trump is an unrepentant racist. He does not like education. If he liked education, he would not have put (Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos in charge.”
Malveaux said Black and brown children are being “sidelined, redlined out of higher education.” She believes Biden “would throw that executive order out.” Under the Biden/Harris administration, she believes HBCU’s would get more support and believes there would be changes and strengthening of schools’ infrastructures.
Dr. Elston said many times more funding goes to think tanks than to the people who actually do the work. “These problems didn’t start over night. We have to support things that work.” He and Dr. Glover called for more resources for students of color.
Agreeing, Dr. Whitaker said the right people should be at the table, and if not, there would be education agendas that don’t close the academic achievement gap.
Asked to give recommendations they want the Biden administration to adopt, Dr. Malveaux included poverty, food and wraparound services, to send the best teachers to the worst schools and to attack curriculums.
Explaining, Dr. Malveaux said that when she went to one high school, “they had two Black people in the history book. One looked like they had escaped from an Uncle Ben’s rice box and the other looked like they escaped through a pancake box. Those were the Black people in the history book.”
“Our young people need to see how great we are, how many wonderful things we’ve done….We have to attack curriculum,” she said. The Secretary of Education should be involved in curriculum development.
Dr. Malveaux gave our public schools a grade of “D,” saying the students are going to schools that are old and ill equipped. She told of a white student who did not believe there were lynchings of Blacks. “The racial narrative needs to be woven into history. People need to know about those 5,000 lynchings. They need to know about Jim Crow laws and redlining. You cannot understand the wealth gap until you really understand the racial history, and too many people simply do not know.”
Dr. Malveaux ended with a story about the year 1919 in Georgia. “A white man who bought people from jail and took them to his plantation, and they worked off whatever their bail was.” She said one man was sick when he got out of jail, and they beat him with a shovel. “The brother got very angry and shot his wife and killed her husband.” (The Black man that had been beaten subsequently shot and wounded the white man’s wife and then killed the white man that had gotten him out of jail.)
“For the next two weeks, they (whites) lynched somebody every day. If they had any connection with this guy, they lynched Blacks. Malveaux said a 19-year-old Black pregnant wife whose husband had also been killed went to the courthouse to protest his lynching.
“They did not like her attitude and her insolence and hung her upside down, set her on fire and after they killed her, split her belly open and stomped the child to death,” Malveaux said. “It reminds us that Black women were lynched too, and it reminds us of the indifference of Black children, which is some of what we are seeing in the way people talk about education.
“It is important because it is our history. It is a brutal story, but this is America. There is no exceptionalism to people who would stomp a fetus. We have a lot of work to do. These things need to be in our curriculum. We need to rethink our curriculum,” Malveaux said.
Rev. Wilson said, “We are looking to set the policy agenda for 2021 and beyond. We are in a digital world. We must reimagine how we educate our students at every level, how we engage parents and teachers to work together in this virtual remote world we now live in.” She believes that with the Biden/Harris administration, education for children of color and poor children will be on their agenda.
Dr. Leak called for evidence-based funding for schools where students are provided the resources they need, along with estimated funds needed to close the educational equity gap. She wants an equitable national funding mandate “to determine what is the baseline every child needs, how much funding would that require and what’s the gap, then start filling in that funding. That will take care of your wraparound services of family engagement and ensure that the curriculum that we need to have is in place.”
Like Rev. Jackson, Dr. Leak also called for anti-racism education. Dr. Leak said this is important for adults, and children should be trained about anti-racism.
Dr. Whitaker summarized the panelists’ educational recommendations for the Biden administration that included:
- We are advocating for wrap-around service in our educational institutions;
- We are advocating for policies related to incentives so that the best teachers work at the less performing schools;
- We are advocating for policies associated with attacking the curriculum and materials to make sure it reflects the spirits and the lives of children of color and children experiencing the impact of poverty;
- We are advocating for the development of a more equitable model that is modeled out of the U.S. Department of Education;
- We are advocating for a policy associated with addressing anti-racism education;
- We are advocating for teacher pay to be higher. We want to make sure teachers are paid their worth;
- We are advocating for the tackling of systemic racism;
- We are advocating for a policy around measuring success.
Referring to previous administrations on the issue of educational agendas, Dr. Whitaker said, “In all due respect to any and all former U.S. Department of Secretary of Education folk and their cabinet members….
“I think that we would all agree that our policies and practices have not resulted in statistically significant improvements in the social, emotional or academic well-being of children of color and children experiencing the impact of poverty, including Black children.
“Policies around measuring success, as opposed to stepping into place and throwing away anything that has ever occurred in every administration’s tenure, we are going close by recommending that we examine what works that we build upon that. We are the United States of America and we got this,” Dr. Whitaker said.