If you live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it’s hard not to notice the billboards and posters advertising the Williamsburg Success Academy Charter School. I snapped these shots a few weeks ago, as I walked into the subway station near my home and felt my jaw drop at the audacity of the school’s promoters.
Take this first image. The caption reads: “All children play games. Our chess players are always a few moves ahead.” The insinuations are many, and obvious, so I don’t need to get on a teacher soapbox for long. However, as a former chess teacher/coach at an elementary school in New York City where my students often challenged me and other grown colleagues on the chess board, I find this particular sign a little hard to swallow. Why not point out the fact that 1) chess programs have been stripped from schools as the accountability movement has taken public education by storm and funding has diminished for anything extracurricular, or 2) it doesn’t necessarily follow that if you’re good at chess, you’re also a “good” student? And on.
And what about this sign? The caption reads: “Most children are excited for recess. Ours are just as excited for class.” Again, insinuations aplenty. But what’s most upsetting to me I think is the fact that both of these signs feed fuel to the fire of the us-vs-them dialogue that only divides our society further.
This advertisement plays off of the ideology that started the charter school movement (which, at its inception, wasn’t a completely horrible idea) — that public funding for education should go to schools that offer an alternative to business as usual. BUT. The Success Academy charter schools, and others like them that “colocate” with other schools that already exist (among other things), create a dynamic that contradicts their supposedly intended purpose: they create separate, unequal schools that often start by moving into a building that’s already inhabited.
I watched this happen first-hand as a 5th grade teacher in Harlem as not one but two charter schools moved into our building in rapid succession. I need to go back to my journals entries and see what I wrote about my experience. I don’t remember it fondly.
If you’d like to know more about charter schools and haven’t already seen it, take a moment to check out the documentary, The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman. It’s the best explanation that I’ve seen on what the charter school movement has really done to public schools in New York City.