Corrupt leaders are dependent upon a fearful populace to maintain their power and control. They rely on ignorance of this group and its lack of education so they can provide what is perceived as the only path toward success.
Nowhere is corruption more apparent than in our educational system in impoverished communities.
In Perth Amboy, NJ, where I am currently serving as the superintendent of schools, I see this in action every day. The city has a very large unemployment rate and the school district is the largest employer. There are many jobs available and some politicians and community leaders gain support by promising those jobs to people.
This system works very well for those doling out the jobs but is disastrous for the children who are enrolled in the school system.
There is no consideration for quality of services and, in a few cases, people who may be harmful to students are kept on the job. Anyone who attempts to threaten the status quo is systematically ostracized and removed. Come to any Board of Education meeting and you will see this in action as a small group of very vocal gadflies continually fuel this engine of corruption.
Fear prevents people from speaking out.
The truly sad part of this entire scenario is that there are many more people who desire change than those who wish to maintain the corrupt system.
Almost all school administrators and managers privately express their disdain for the situation. Parents, community leaders, students, teachers and staff frequently discuss how things need to change.
Yet, very few will make such statements in public and many do not vote.
It is completely understandable. Anyone who does speak out is shunned by the community, threatened, and made to feel stupid for desiring the change. Are they afraid of violence, death or imprisonment like so many have endured in other civil rights struggles?
A few are afraid they will lose their jobs or prevent their children from eventually getting jobs. But for most people, the fear is simply about being shunned. They don’t want to be cut off from the herd. I believe the fear comes from our very primitive roots when being alone meant being vulnerable. If you are not running with the herd, you are running alone and subject to attacks from predators.
How do you fight this fear? You create a new “herd.”
You help people find strength in numbers and band together against those who are currently holding the power. It really doesn’t take much. If five or ten people in a town like Perth Amboy were to come together and take a very loud, organized, public stand against educational oppression of our children, others would join them. Their numbers would grow quickly and overturn corrupt politicians.
This can only happen if a few people develop the courage necessary to be split from their original herd; to be vulnerable enough and strong enough to endure the shunning and jeering that will certainly come from their actions. One’s desire to do right must overpower all else.
Unfortunately this community has not chosen courage. Instead they have elected officials to the Board of Education who have promised control of jobs and to continue educational oppression.
These Board members are working to remove promising reading programs and have already removed professional development from teachers that was working. They are trying to return the district to previous oppressive practices such as the segregation of Spanish speaking students. Despite these alarming actions, which seem to be aimed at keeping a generation of children ignorant and dependent, there remains an astounding lack of courage. People speak privately but never in public. They go along with those now in power in order to sustain their own status in the community.
Unfortunately the story of Perth Amboy Public Schools is not unusual. There are school districts everywhere that are oppressing their own children in order to sustain corrupt politicians and other corrupt community leaders.
The missing ingredient to changing the status quo is courage.
What is courage? It is listening to the voice inside of you that tells you what is right instead of following the herd. It is doing what you know is right even when you know there may be a personal cost. It means facing our fears head-on and learning from failure. Courage means accepting shuns, jeers, and set-backs. In school reform it means persistently, unapologetically standing up for children and often becoming a target.
If we want our children of poverty to get the education they deserve, we need to focus on them and do what is right. We must put our own fears aside and take on corrupt leaders. We need to have the courage to reject what is, and demand what should be for our children.