This is the latest installment in our occasional series on the center-left roots of school choice.
If the full, rich history of school choice wasn’t so hidden, perhaps it’d be less shocking to stumble on a link (hat tip: Chris Stewart) between charter schools and “the first lady of civil rights.” But since so much of that history remains off radar, I have the honor of amplifying the blip.
Rosa Parks liked school choice, too.
In the late 1990s, she and her foundation applied for a K-12 charter school in Detroit in the hopes of uplifting black students in tough neighborhoods. Bad timing and twisted ed politics apparently doomed the effort, but it’s clear Parks, the product of a private Christian school, saw value in giving parents more options.
Said the application:
The mission of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Academy for Self Development (the “Academy”) is to provide mentoring and alternative learning, through creative education techniques, that incorporate the philosophies of Rosa and Raymond Parks. The Principles are based on their life experiences of pride, dignity and courage. Students will be educated and trained in a community environment to transfer common sense and survival skills into leadership and marketable skills.
The Academy will also provide training in life skills that incorporate the philosophies of Rose and Raymond Parks: dignity with pride, courage with perseverance and power with discipline.
Parks and her husband moved to Detroit in 1957, not long after her quiet act of courage on that Deep South bus sent dominoes falling. Their Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development operated an after-school program that stressed character education. Parks wanted a school that did the same.
Pride, dignity and courage “were the words that were important to her, and that she wanted translated into a bigger educational program,” said Anna Amato, an education consultant who worked with Parks on the application and hasn’t talked publicly about it for nearly 20 years.
The Rosa Parks charter school also planned to emphasize project-based, experiential learning. For instance, students would take field trips to Michigan “stops” on the Underground Railroad and use that as a springboard for lessons in reading, writing, history – and more.
“Our students and parents, as an entire family,” said the application, “will be provided opportunities to develop a thorough knowledge of the history of the African American struggle for civil rights, along with a sense of responsibility for themselves and their communities.”
Soft-spoken and reserved, Parks did not want a big to-do over the school, Amato said. She just wanted to help kids in her neighborhood, and was uneasy with the possibility the school could become “political.”
Of course, the idea that low-income parents should have options beyond district schools has become ridiculously political.