STROTHERS: Diddy Boppin, Harlem shaking in education
Opinions Column: The Network
Education is one of the few industries that is blamed for many societal ills. It is also one of the few industries that everyone believes they can “fix,” even if they have never stepped foot into a classroom. Recently, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs announced the opening of a charter school in his hometown of Harlem, New York. Diddy, being known as a rapper, business mogul and entertainer, appeals that he wants to provide equal education to students in one of the worst districts in the city. One would think that this announcement would receive overwhelming support, however, it has been received with hesitations.
With the creation of the Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School, Diddy is pushing the privatization of education forward. Now, perhaps people in other fields do not understand what this means or why it is a factor at all. Perhaps we cannot see the deeper connection this has to the children and families it is in position to serve. Privatizing education and creating charter schools are the solutions to educational reform, right? Well, the truth of the matter is that privatizing education has forced an agenda and made schooling a place of business. There has been a lot written about the money potential within charter schools, and one cannot help but to draw the connection between charters and mass incarceration. As we have seen over the years, prisons have received huge profits for their investors. But who is really paying the price for this? The answer: Black and brown bodies inhabiting urban spaces and black and brown youth who are not able to attend such schools like Harlem Charter. I mean come on — the maximum number of students the school will take is 700 over the next few years. Only 700 students total for grades 6-12. My high school in Philly is twice this size. (I imagine the school’s admission line to be longer than the wait for the next pair of Jordans.) So, what happens to those students and families who are not admitted into these charters? The answer — public education, which is now receiving less funding due to the privatization of schooling, and thus we have the school to prison pipeline. The business of education has turned into a business indeed. And we all know that Diddy is all about his business. Jay-Z said it best, "I’m not a businessman, I’m a business. Man."
The other reason why this announcement is facing criticism is because of the partnership it has created. Diddy has selected Steve Perry to oversee the school. Now, Steve Perry is best known as a regular CNN contributor on education as well as having his own show, “Save My Son.” He is also the founder and former principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, which highlights a 100 percent graduation rate and college acceptance rate. So, why are people hesitant? (Google Dr. Steve Perry’s dissertation and you might be a tad hesitant as well). Dr. Perry has commercialized and branded himself as “the most trusted educator in America.” People are concerned that he is more concerned about publicity and merchandising of self, when the true emphasis should be on the students and access to quality education. There are also questions about his leadership and high attrition rate with students who are accepted.
Considering these hesitations, if Diddy and Perry are able to manage this strategically, the school has potential to help an additional amount of students. The key is to ensure they are not taking away from one child in order to provide more resources to the other. Or as my grandma likes to say, "Robbing Peter to pay Paul." In spite of the business nature of both of these men, the optimistic side still sees hope in providing access to an equitable education for all youth. Maybe they have the power to shake up Harlem just a little.
Atiya Strothers is a Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate School of Education. Her column, "The Network,” runs on alternate Fridays.
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