Education for Liberation!

Black Education for Black Liberation!

Dr. Donald Smith On Why He Can't Support Mayoral Candidate Bill Thompson


Support William Thompson, Jr.?


When David Dinkins ran for a second term as New York City mayor against Rudy Giuliani in 1993, I was undecided until the day before the election whether to vote for Dinkins.

I could not possibly have voted for Giuliani who has historically shown contempt and disdain for African and other non-white people. Yet, I struggled with supporting Dinkins who had done very little to improve the lives of New York’s African American population, who in fact had spent much of his energies courting those who had not voted for him in his first election - - the so-called “I” vote: Irish, Italian and Israeli. Well, the “I” voters rejected Dinkins again and he lost, not because his base support had voted for Giuliani but because many of his neglected base remained home on election day. He did not serve Africans and Hispanics. He had not danced with those who took him to the dance. It was the last time I would ever vote for the “lesser of two evils”.

I have never voted for Michael Bloomberg, nor do I intend to. Yet neither will I support nor vote for William Thompson Jr.

I am unalterably opposed to mayoral control of education in New York or any American city. My preference is an elected citywide Board of Education which would guarantee seats for parents whose children are enrolled in the public schools.

I cannot support Mayor Bloomberg whose vision for a school system predominantly of children of color is a test dominated system based on a corporate model, and whose philosophy is to hold children back who do not achieve grade level expectations. Yet, most research has found that the number one reason for students dropping out is their being held back one or more grades. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein demand a standard curriculum that virtually eliminates African-centered instruction. Teachers and principals who implement a truthful history for their students are at risk of punishment that could lead to the “rubber room” and ultimate dismissal.

Education for the masses was never intended to liberate or to teach critical thinking. Education for the masses is to provide workers to support the political and economic systems for the benefit of the wealthy.

I cannot support William Thompson, Jr. because his tenure as president of the New York City Board of Education was sufficient evidence that he should not be supported. He took no actions to improve the education of our children. On the contrary, his presidency of the BE was a stepping stone for being elected comptroller and, possibly later, mayor of New York City. As such he made no decision or uttered any statement that would offend the “I” vote or corporate New York.

All education is political. Who can teach, what the curriculum shall be, who can be principal, superintendent, chancellor, how shall educators be evaluated, who will build the schools, which companies will sell and vendor the books and materials, even which food is served in the lunchroom, these are all political decisions. No mayor should have the power to make these important decisions alone, but Mr. Thompson announced last winter that he absolutely supports mayoral control.

In 1994 a joint resolution was offered by BE members Dr. Esmeralda Simmons and Dennis Wolcott and approved by the Board to create a Commission on Students of African Descent. Chancellor Ramon Cortines and the borough presidents appointed members to the Commission, whose reports can be found in summary on a BNYEE web-mail, 9/20/09. Dr. Simmons and Mr. Walcott were appointed to the Commission. Mr. Wolcott came to one meeting, the first. After the initial appointments, Dr. Lorraine Monroe was added. She left her first meeting, never to return, after expressing disapproval of the African-centered focus of the discussion.

Dr. Beverly Hall and I were elected co-chairs by the members of the Commission. After Dr. Hall was appointed superintendent of the Newark Public Schools, I was elected chair. We met monthly and held three public hearings at which teachers, administrators, parents, students and community members gave us input on how to improve the education of students of African descent.                                  

Two members of the Board of Education gave testimony. Mr. Thompson did not.                                                             

When he became president of the Board in 1996, I met with Mr. Thompson and gave him a copy of our three reports which specified expectations for student achievement, for teachers, administrators and community school boards, as well as a report on parent involvement. Above all, we recommended that a truthful African history and culture be taught to our students, that teachers and administrators be required to study our history and culture to be prepared to teach and to administer to our students. I also met individually with Chancellor Rudy Crew. Neither Mr. Thompson nor Dr. Crew ever responded to the Commission; none of the recommendations was ever implemented.

What Thompson and Crew did do was severely handicap the Commission by denying it any further budget for consultants, hearings or reports. The initial operating budget had been provided by former Chancellor Cortines.

Both former Board President Thompson and former Chancellor Crew failed in their most important assignments. Their behavior suggests that we cannot trust or support either of these officials to protect the interests of people of African descent or other people of color or of poverty.                              

The day must end when we support or elect people who look like us but who do not have our interests at heart.

The Struggle Must Continue,

Donald H. Smith, Ph.D.

Former Chair, the New York City Board of Education’s Commission on Students of African Descent

Past President, the National Alliance of Black School Educators