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Greed and poverty are products of MPS failure

by Robert Miranda

As an activist who has organized against the commercialization and privatization of public education with pro-public education notables as David Noble, Leonard Minsky and Ralph Nader, I’m often annoyed by so-called progressive education journalists who fail to bring to the forefront of the education debate the underbelly of the so-called “reform” movement’s campaign to improve public schools. Often progressive journalists raise the issue of poverty and the unequal distribution of resources Milwaukee Public Schools receives from the State, yet, they fail to articulate to the public that these issues require tremendous civil action and unfettered resolve by those we elect and community leaders who say they speak on our behalf, to work united in an effort to eradicate this seemingly unending cycle of poverty, while at the same time dealing with a culture that lacks the economic will to do so. As a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the early 1990s, I knew that the political beast we were up against was not interested in improving MPS. I was resolved to think that way when I had discussions with the MPS Superintendent and Milwaukee area progressive education leaders. But allow me to digress before we go on, because if we are to have debate about improving MPS and public education in general, then this debate needs to be open and honest within the progressive community. That notwithstanding, our public stations, including public schools and government, are under attack. Al Queda, the Taliban and Sadaam Hussein may be frothing at the mouth to kill Americans, but it is Americans who are destroying the infrastructure of our nation’s public institutions. Indeed, the profiteering and privatization of our public wealth, resources and institutions is slowly taking the breath out of our freedoms. The continued mergers of private sector companies with our public schools and other public stations, not only threatens our system of democracy, it creates greed unimagined at the expense of the education of our children. My cynicism is not borne out of lack of knowledge, but rather, seeded by the experience I had when I organized teachers, staff, students, elected officials, community and union leaders and fellow activists to improve a failing Milwaukee Public School. In 1993, during my first year as a student activist and co-founder of the Latino Student Union, our group decided to venture into our community to become partners in an effort to “fix” an MPS school. The school was South Division High School. That year a major community meeting was held at the United Community Center. The meeting was called after newspaper accounts in the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel began to report on our student group’s effort to rename South Division High School to Cesar E. Chavez University High School. In addition to renaming the school a plan to improve the school was prepared by several South Division parents, community leaders and teachers. The plan outlined a way to change the curriculum of the school from that of general and vocational education, to a total college preparatory school with a bilingual emphasis throughout the school. We did not get paid to create this plan, nor did we get paid to organize this effort. The community campaign to improve the school brought many people together, our great friend and long time journalist in the Milwaukee Latino community, the late Al Stergar, oftentimes provided me with organizing advise. My dear friend and closest confidant, the late Marshall Vega, a Milwaukee native, helped me to make contact with Latino community leaders and grassroots activists who met with me and offered their support. Leon Todd, an MPS board member who I met while I was a board member of the now defunct group, “Progressive Milwaukee,” provided support and leadership on the board. Jose Martinez, a young politically conscious student created the Latino Student Union at South Division and began organizing students to support the effort. He was able to also involve a large number of teachers and got them to support our cause. It was Jose Martinez who first alerted us to the first signs of trouble. He approached me and told me that he overheard several “happy Anglo teachers at the school” state that a well known Latino leader “was blocking the community campaign to rename the school and that they [those against our effort] had nothing to worry about.” The news took us by surprise. It wasn’t until we attended a community meeting at La Causa, Inc. that the truth was revealed. The “Latino leader” told people in and outside of our community that he did not support our actions because he felt that, “our people were not ready for this kind of education.” Howard Fuller supported this individual’s rational and most of the progressive education activists in the city went along with this unilateral decision. It was later revealed that the real reason for not supporting the community initiative was not that our children were not ready for this curriculum, but rather Howard Fuller was paying this Hispanic over $550.00 a day to derail our initiative because South Division was to be the first school Fuller wanted the Edison Project to take over. Placing South Division in the control of the Edison Project would not happen if South Division High School began to show signs of improvement. Needless to say we blocked this effort and Howard Fuller resigned several years later after we stayed on him and exposed his true educational philosophy. We did this without the support of seasoned progressive education activists in Milwaukee. This community effort to improve South Division High School was thwarted by one man’s greed and another man’s political agenda. Had progressive education journalists and activists joined the fight to oust Fuller and his allies out of MPS, the privatization movement in Milwaukee could have been dealt a serious set back. Poverty is a problem, but greed by so-called education leaders in positions of power and refusing to acknowledge this greed and corrupt political influence affecting MPS by progressive education journalists, is an injustice and is helping to destroy our public schools, in addition to prolonging poverty in our urban community and the continued growth of the privatization movement. Robert Miranda is currently running for alderman in the 12th district. He is one of six elected members on the Milwaukee Social Development Commission, which oversees social-service distribution to more than 150,000 citizens of Milwaukee, including shelter services, youth services, Head Start and food services. Miranda also helps craft the policy of Wisconsin’s largest anti-poverty agencies. In a recent article, Greed In the Groves (WisOpinion.com), Miranda discusses school choice, which “centers around two basic notions: 1) Public schools are monopolies unwilling to improve from within, and 2) the need to stimulate reform is best done by creating competitive alternatives to public schools in order to force the system to improve.” Miranda asks, “Why are we having problems trying to focus on making these goals happen for our community? Is there common ground?”