The image above of Kaleem Caire is stolen from the Isthmus Daily Page. Mr. Caire’s face has been in the papers and on TV a lot lately. His idea for a charter school for young black men in Madison has sparked heated debate.
On my way home from an errand this morning, Mitch Henck and his Friday Roundtable guests Sunny Schubert and Ed Garvey on WIBA-AM were taking calls on this hot-potato topic. Pretty sharp crew, but this issue has the three of them – and their callers – disagreeing on many points regarding the proposed school.
Those who keep track of such things say about half of Madison’s young black men will likely spend some time in prison before they’re out of their 20’s. Far too many not only don’t graduate from high school, they drop out of school long before their senior year. That this is a problem seems non-debatable, but solving the problem is another matter.
A day or so ago, after the latest school board meeting regarding the proposed school, Caire made what I think is a profound proclamation, namely that for far too many years in Madison, the public schools have put the needs of the adults (teachers, staff, administrators) ahead of the needs of the students. It’s not hard to see where Caire is coming from on this: making sure the teachers union contract is settled and following its dictates trumps damn near everything else.
Many of the roadblocks Caire has run into involve the teacher’s union: he first proposed hiring non-union teachers (you can imagine how THAT idea went over with the school system); when he compromised, it drove expenses too high to be manageable; the wrangling continues.
There are apparently those who firmly believe young black men will only listen to another person of color, and that putting a blue-eyed teacher of Norwegian extraction in front of them results in no listening, no learning. Mitch, Sunny, and Ed gave that topic a workout. If this assertion is fact – and I’m not stipulating that it is – it’s an indication of how deep the problem runs.
Caire’s vision of a “Madison Preparatory Academy” breaks a lot of traditions and calls for a highly non-conventional approach to education, by Madison standards.
I say nothing is lost by giving him a shot at it, while much may be lost if we continue the status quo.