Photo by Steve SnodgrassMany of you have read about Kelley Williams-Bolar, who was found guilty of two felonies (“theft” and “tampering with records”) when someone revealed that she used her father’s address to enroll her daughters in a well-off public school system. According to the Atlanta Post story below, Ms. Williams-Bolar was the first person in US history to be convicted of these crimes as they relate to public education. She spent nine days in jail, will have two years of probation and will have to give 80 hours of community service. As she was studying to become a teacher, the felonies may make it impossible for her to be certified. Citizens across the country, upset about her treatment, petitioned the Ohio Governor to revisit the case. He’s asked the Ohio Parole Board to look over the case, but as of this moment there’s been no decision. If this editorial represents Ohio public opinion, it’s unlikely Ms. Williams-Bolar will be made whole.
What Ms. Williams-Bolar did was understandable. I knew plenty of Detroit area parents who sent their children to suburban school districts using fake addresses. Likely dozens of Baltimore parents do the same thing. If being a good parent means placing your children in schools that affirm them and maintain their health and security, it is literally impossible to be a good parent in many metropolitan neighborhoods.
But the question is whether Ms. Williams–Bolar can serve, as the Atlanta Post asks below, as the next Rosa Parks.
I wish this were likely. The Williams-Bolar case is another salvo in the race/class war. It’s no coincidence a black woman living in public housing is the first person out of all the persons found guilty of falsifying records to get their kids in better schools.
But the Rosa Parks analogy fails for three key reasons. First, Rosa Parks was chosen not only because she had an extensive history of organizing, but because she had no character flaws that the class-conscious African American community of Montgomery could use against her. Secondly, because there already was a pre-existing network of organized agents. Egyptians didn’t just overthrow their President because Mohammad Bouazizi became a martyr in Tunisia. Rather a pre-existing set of networks radicalized segments of the Egyptian citizenry, preparing them for action.
We don’t have anything close to that, although organizations like The Algebra Project bring us a bit closer every day.
Which brings me to the third reason. While we don’t have an organized citzenry prepared to progressively work on the issue of education, we DO have an organized set of institutions prepared to transform public institutions into market institutions. Many cities no longer have school superintendents, rather they have school CEO’s. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently named Cathie Black head of NYC schools. Black has significant executive experience but NONE in education. And Michelle Rhee (former DC Chancellor of Education) is attempting to raise $1 billion for her new Student First organization, an organizing devoted to “placing student first” by among other things increasing school “choice” and removing tenure. These moves gain traction not simply because they have resources, but also because the market language they use resonates with citizens. Finally, while “choice” may not help everyone, it helps those with the cultural capital to take advantage of it. And this further ruptures the affinity between black middle class and working class parents.
I can empathize with Ms. Williams-Bolar. My wife and I had to face tough choices in dealing with our own children. We ended up homeschooling for years then moving outside of the city to a better school district. It is my hope that in spite of the hurdles her case poses for critical organizing, we can at least use it to radicalize others in her situation.