Huffpost Education

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

John Thompson Headshot

The Wisdom of Spoken Word Poet LeDerick Horne

Posted: Updated:

From the policy analysts' perspective, the key lines in LeDerick Horne's "Dare to Dream" are:

Every child gets left behind
when all we focus on are tests

If adults are serious about school improvement and being "our Brothers' Keeper," however, we will wrestle with Horne's overall message. Horne could have been left behind in exclusionary special education programs. There were times when his learning disability got him down. But now, he has been recognized across the country as a motivational speaker and advocate for people with disabilities. He is an entrepreneur and a teacher.

I have no doubt that the Obama administration is sincere in pushing a new initiative, "My Brother's Keeper," to improve educational and economic opportunity for young African-American men. I even believe that the administration's doomed test-driven effort to use rewards and punishment to improve schools began with sincerity. So, I hope President Obama will listen to Mr. Horne about what it really takes to produce educational equity.

My favorite of piece of Horne's spoken word wisdom begins:

We are gathered here today
to bear witness,
to bear witness to the union
of two beautiful people
Yes, today is the day that we merge
who you are
with who you want to be,

Horne uses poetry as a teaching tool. His vision of schooling is more than a competition, more than a market-driven process. He seeks "An integration born of communication."

It is more than testing, corporate reform and the narrow utilitarianism known as school "accountability" that threatens to rob children of color of a challenging, uplifting, and holistic education. Market-driven reform has degenerated into "neo-Plessyism" where rote instruction is increasingly and disproportionately imposed on poor children.

Horne and his brothers must navigate the misguided self-segregation which is increased by charters, school closures, the disproportionate firing of older African-American teachers. Corporate school reform, as well as covert and overt racism, and not so benign neglect in a marketplace create a world with changing price tags for everything. The churn of the global marketplace leaves little time for real values.

But, Horne resists. He challenges his listeners to assume responsibility and take action:

If I got to grand-theft-auto
the Mercedes-Benz
of a quality-education,
then they might as well leave the doors unlocked
and the keys in the ignition
'cause I'm gone in 60 seconds

And, that brings us back to the political message that students, parents, education reformers, and the Obama administration must hear. As Texas superintendent John Kuhn explains, school reform may have begun as a supposedly quicker and easier path to "the civil rights movement of the 21st century."

But, it has degenerated into the "civil rights movement of the timid."

Reformers hoped to please corporate powers by sounding tough by saying the word "Accountability!" over and over. Horne, however seeks real responsibility, not the faux-accountability of bubble-in reform.

this is a revolution
a fight for inclusion
segregation is no solution
Brown vs. Ed is how I'm provin'
we deserve the best
nothin' more and nothin' less
every child gets left behind
when all we focus on are tests.