It’s Charter School Season in Nashville and You’d Better Watch Your Back

Or perhaps I should say, GET OUT. The political landscape gets scary around the time charter organizations submit their proposals to operate in Nashville. So, it’s not surprising to see the attacks launch a month before the application deadline. What’s troubling, though, is how charter haters are doing it.

The tactics are well-timed, comprehensively planned, and merciless, which would be just fine if the anti-charter people were attacking issues instead of people. It’s the most troubling thing in education I’ve ever witnessed. It seems we are held hostage by a few, Nashville’s tight little family, who are allowed to run roughshod over desperate families by shredding the leaders of schools that seek to fill a need in the community. The tragedy is that many recognize the ruthlessness and do nothing out of fear or silent consent. Or both.

Rules for Radicals

Since entering the throes of charter school season, I have been reminded of Saul Alinsky’s little book called Rules for Radicals, written in 1971. Alinsky was a mastermind at community organizing, deploying tactics with little to no regard for ethics. As a matter of fact, he argued “the most unethical of all means is the non-use of any means.” Everything is fair game, by any means necessary.

It is known that Hillary Clinton wrote about Rules for her senior thesis upon graduating from Wellesley. There are also rumors linking President Obama to Alinsky’s rules. I was introduced to Saul Alinsky as an undergrad, but was so stunned by his mercilessness I completely blocked it out. Since venturing onto the ed reform battlefield, I recognize the Rules and wonder if there is a secret society of anti-charter Alinsky-ites who are dead set on taking out charter leaders by any means necessary.

“Pick a Target, Freeze It, Personalize It, Polarize It”

‘Pick a target, freeze, personalize and polarize’ is far down Alinsky’s list, but it happens to be the one that is most visible in Nashville. In 2015, John Little, a charter school advocate, went head-to-head with school board member Will Pinkston in an epic battle on Facebook. John was leading a mayoral campaign at the time, and for reasons that still elude me, was pounced upon by Pinkston—who at some point had supposedly been his friend.

It got ugly, y’all. We all watched Pinkston unleash personal attacks and served up private information about John. We watched while John’s years of hard work take hit after hit by a privileged elected official with tons of political capital on a mission to erase him.
Now, two years later, the target is Shaka Mitchell, leader of two Rocketship charter schools in Nashville. It seems this all began when Rocketship applied to open a third Nashville public school last year. After the school board denied the application, Mitchell and his team appealed and were denied a second time. So Mitchell took his case to the state board of education, but received a third denial.

Wait… Rewind… Let’s not forget the 2013 bloody battles on Twitter and Facebook between Pinkston and Ravi Gupta, founder of the Nashville Prep charter school. Legendary.

Fair enough, some people don’t want more charters. But just because these school leaders want to reach more kids and families, that shouldn’t make them a target for trolling and personal attacks.

Not to Play the Race Card, But…

Maybe I’ve experienced too many stories as of late about the black man in America. The movie “Get Out” and the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” are at the top of the list. The killing of Jocques Clemmons in East Nashville running from Nashville police also comes to mind. Or maybe it’s because I’m married to one and gave birth to another. But I see a disturbing pattern in this targeting men of color, in general, and black men, in particular.

Hey, maybe it has little to do with the fact John and Shaka are black males. To be honest, I hope like hell I’m wrong about it. But here’s what I know, what I’ve seen countless times—Nashville’s black voices again are silent or silenced. And a brilliant political strategist like Pinkston understands this and, no doubt, uses it to his advantage. After all, “ridicule is man’s most potent weapon” (yes, Alinsky). And those who lack loud representation are positioned to be the perfect scapegoats for a political axe-grinding.

‘Silence is Betrayal’

Conventional wisdom says never go to a gunfight with a knife. I suppose the safe thing would be to keep my thoughts to myself. Eighty-six the rabble-rousing. But check this: I’ve spent my entire adult life silently sitting on the sidelines watching injustices slide; so damn scared, too scared to breathe. I’ve been making myself too invisible to be someone’s target. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

So, it’s charter school season and the games have begun. If you’re not against them, you’re with them. Take cover.

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