WhatDoWeDo by Guy Mingo
What do we do when we realize that public education in Detroit is suddenly on the verge of disappearing? The school board went to court to reign in the power of Detroit Public School emergency manager, Robert Bobb. Newly elected Governor Rick Snyder responded with legislation that gives Bobb even greater sway over the future of DPS. Education activists and parents got in Bobb's face at every opportunity. Bobb closed even more schools.
On April 14, charter school operators began to pick over 45 schools chosen by Bobb, including the Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA). On April 15, the CFA community responded with a direct, non-violent occupation of the school building-- perhaps the only avenue now available to families and educators who refuse to see public education wiped away.
I received word that the Catherine Ferguson Academy had been occupied by students, their children and teachers only hours after it happened. Supporters were picketing Bobb's actions and rallying outside the building. By the time I reached the managing editor at the Michigan Citizen, DPS police had already quelled the protest action with blaring sirens and arrests. The resulting national exposure shed more light on the extremist "reforms" Robert Bobb is willing to undertake in what may be his last few weeks as DPS emergency manager.
The sordid history, which goes back at least twelve years, behind the state-led decimation of the DPS and its elected board is known only to those who have kept a close watch. The rest of the region, it seems, has swallowed the story whole that internal corruption and incompetence brought down the district.
The mainstream media in Detroit has granted Robert Bobb a continuous pass. He has appeared in countless TV, print and radio interviews without ever having to reveal his history as a charter school advocate. He's never been forced to talk about the past relationships with incompetent high paid advisers he brought to Detroit. Neither Al Allen nor Carolyn Clifford bothered to ask Bobb if receiving over $30,000 from the Eli Broad Foundation on top of his enormous salary affects the decisions he makes about school closings and teacher firings.
Luckily, there are people who have been keeping track of the messy details. Russ Bellant, a member of a Detroit school board advisory group and public education activist, has assembled a 28-page, "Everything you wanted to know about Robert Bobb, but was afraid to ask"-type dossier. It incorporates background information very few publications have bothered to pursue, and a basis for understanding what is really happening to our children.
CFA is a pristine example of what the public system can do that charters can't or won't. That is, accommodate a segment of our Detroit youth that have unique challenges to overcome in getting an education. The teen mothers that CFA educates with overwhelming success (a 90% graduation rate can apparently still fit Bobb's definition of a "failing school") won't have many other options. The occupation of the Catherine Ferguson Academy will, hopefully, act as a wake-up call to those who still hold the sanctity of public education dear.
The track above incorporates audio taken of protesters outside of Catherine Ferguson Academy the day of the occupation. "When Detroit students are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!"