The Biggest Oxymoron About School Closures and “Poor” Families

“It was their right to know, and that’s why we pushed to make sure they had options,” School Reform Officer Natasha Baker says in the Detroit News. “Now, were they far away? Is it difficult? Yes. But when you’re poor, and I know this for a fact, life is harder. You have to go the extra mile.”

The extra mile? Parents here in Detroit are already going the extra mile. 90 minute bus rides one way to get kids to school.

Fighting for accountability to ensure equitable access to quality schools. And yes, crossing city boundaries seeking better options only to land right back at home fighting for change.

Far too long, I’ve listened to Natasha’s tone and suggestive attitude that Detroit families don’t know what’s best, and I believe her smug undertones have to come from somewhere.

Here’s my take on why she thinks it’s okay to imply that parents go the extra mile instead of coming up with solutions herself for fixing Detroit schools.

“I just hated being poor growing up,” Natasha says in a 2011 interview with Metro Times. “I didn’t want to end up like everyone else in my environment. … So I became obsessive about never missing school, doing every homework assignment.”

I don’t blame her for wanting to rise above the negative influence and impacts of poverty. It was her disdain towards those around her that disturbed me in this article.

She shares how her siblings failed to be as accomplished as her—one a crack addict, one killed and the other a mother of four with four different fathers.

Natasha’s determination to focus was her way out and now she wants that for Detroit students.

She spelled out a plan to open a school that would house 400 students 24 hours a day and keep them away from their poverty-stricken environments.

She gave examples: SEED in Washington, D.C., and Cranbrook in Michigan. Both great examples but expensive.

Natasha’s desire to add more diverse education options is awesome, but I don’t know if I’d want her as a leader of such schools. Her undertones scare me. She comes from that mindset of “I did it now so can you, if you really want it.”

But without showing families how to do it, by offering proper supports and planning great exit strategies, poverty will be the only destination for those already there.

Natasha, this is not just a “Just do it moment or movement.” This is a “What can we do to improve it for those most impacted by it?” time.

You, my dear, have shown us smug comments, no clear answers and only legal rhetoric that leaves the entire community jaded. I know this is your job, but I question your motive behind it.

Again, you hate poverty and I wonder if you are motivated by a hate for those in poverty. Maybe hate is a bad choice of word. Maybe it’s a strong dislike.

That same dislike you get from folks who feel all minorities just need to get a grip and want better.

Those poor poor folk, they just don’t get it, you think. So let me help them get it. Get out of your lil comfort zone and go get life.

This is how you sound when you think it is that simple. This is how you sound when you put the onus on poor folk to make decisions beyond their financial capabilities.

Even your letters degrade our families. I question your intent, Natasha!

Do our schools need improvement? Yes!

Have they been failing? Yes!

Will just closing them make things better for “poor” students? No!

It takes a village to raise a whole child! But I will add to this old but true cliche: If you are not a part of our village, you are a part of the problem.

Natasha Baker, you are a part of the problem. And just because you grew up poor doesn’t make you a part of our village.

Let us know how you feel about school closures in the comments below, or on Facebook at Detroit School Talk or on Twitter @DetroitSchlTalk.


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