Black leaders, NFL protesters should get off sidelines for educational justice

Black leaders, NFL protesters should get off sidelines for educational justice
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NFL players who take a knee in protest during the playing our National Anthem are not "sons of bitches." They are our fellow citizens, whose personal dignity and human rights guarantee them the right to express their displeasure with any economic and social disadvantages or abuses African-Americans and others suffer in our society.

Unfortunately, the protesters, and many of the black leaders who defend them, choose to ignore or perpetuate the greatest disadvantage young African Americans suffer — the lack of the same educational choices enjoyed by more affluent families.

Ironically, a cornerstone of President Donald J. Trump’s economic and social agenda is to secure educational justice for low- and middle-income families, a proven policy proposal protested against by those who, in addition to applauding the taking of a knee during the National Anthem, kneel at the altar of public schools. While demanding respect for the right of some of the richest people in America to protest urban policing practices on the sidelines for a few minutes before playing a 60-minute football game, these leaders block educational choice, penalizing poor minority children who, for years, are sidelined in ineffective and unsafe urban public schools.       

Last week, the Urban Institute published a study showing that student participation in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, the largest school choice program in the country, increased college enrollment rates by about 15 percent. The benefit was larger among students who participated in the program for a greater number of years. Students enrolled in the program for four or more years experienced a 46 percent higher college enrollment rate than non-participating students.

Similar to the school choice proposal being promoted by President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVosBetsy DeVosGOP lawmakers urge Cardona against executive student loan wipeout More insidious power grab than one attempted Jan. 6? Betsy DeVos not running for Michigan governor MORE, the Florida program provides state income tax credits to corporations who donate to non-profit organizations. The organizations use the contributions to fund K-12 scholarships for students in families with limited financial resources, enabling them to afford the tuition and fees at eligible private schools. Considering that 17 states have enacted some form of a tuition tax credit programs, it is encouraging to learn that the programs are leveling the playing field for so many children.

But parents are interested in more than standardized test scores and college enrollment rates. Earlier this year, over 2,000 tuition tax credit scholarship recipient families who responded to a survey conducted by GOAL, Georgia’s largest student scholarship organization, ranked the following as the eight most important reasons why parents choose private schools: better education; religious education; better learning environment; improved student safety; smaller class sizes; better preparation for college; more attention to the unique needs of their children; and more individual attention to their children.

Implicitly acknowledging that urban public schools have for too long neglected the demands of concerned parents for attention to the non-academic formation of their children, this year, public school districts throughout the country are implementing “social and emotional learning,” or “SEL.” The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

In fact, for decades, Catholic and other religious schools have engaged in SEL, albeit from a purely religious viewpoint. This may be why Harvard researchers Stephanie Jones and Emily Doolittle refer to SEL as a “belief ecology” consisting of attitudes and habits of mind, including beliefs and knowledge of self and identity; character and values; and personality. Now, rather than provide concerned parents with a choice regarding the social and emotional education of their children in accordance with the dictates of their consciences, public school officials are engaging in coercive viewpoint discrimination in what is perhaps the most important and meaningful child-rearing activity.

For nearly 60 years, African-American leaders have been using the same playbook to defend urban public schools at the expense of their communities. On first down, encourage your constituents to send their children to government-run schools that neglect their moral education. On second down, place your trust in big city politicians and teacher unions. On third down, after urban public school students have lost valuable academic, social and emotional yardage, deprive them of access to better performing and safer private school choices. On fourth and long, in an attempt to replicate the success of private, religious, and charter school communities, adopt quasi-religious, behavioral psychology-centered social and emotional learning programs that violate the First Amendment and substantive due process rights of parents.

If NFL players, team owners, and those who support their sideline protests really want to improve the economic and social outcomes of African Americans, they should consider standing and locking arms with parents and the leaders of the educational choice movement.

Jim Kelly is president of Solidarity Center for Law and Justice, P.C., an Atlanta, Georgia-based human rights law firm. From 2005-2008, he served as chairman of the Social and Human Sciences Committee for the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO.