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Doing the Bidding of the 'Slave Masters'

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Hazel Dukes and Benjamin Jealous of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) are the New York City teachers union's best champions.

That came through loudly when the NAACP sided with the teachers' union lawsuit to block the shutting of failing public schools in New York City and to prevent charter schools from being located in traditional public school buildings.

Charging that the smaller (public) charter schools, with mostly minority students, are better resourced than traditional public schools -- that these schools' better treatment of their students amounts to "separate and unequal" education -- the NAACP is crying, falsely, racism.

Their claims of discrimination are backed up and explained by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president Michael Mulgrew who explains:

"In too many cases, there are smart boards, freshly painted walls and small class sizes in the charter school while in the public school there are broken blackboards, crumbling facilities and overcrowded classrooms. Separate and unequal."

If invoking "separate and unequal" racial rhetoric weren't shrill enough, the NAACP's Hazel Dukes doubled down this week with the accusation that a minority parent who questioned the NAACP's policy was "doing the business of slave masters."

A parent who wants the NAACP to side with her child getting a quality education in a public charter school is doing the business of "slave masters"?

To follow such warped logic, parents who place their kids in schools where teachers are held accountable for their charges' academic achievement -- where the kids themselves are encouraged to excel -- are supposedly keeping the race in shackles? Black children who don't want to be a part of the race fanatics' statistics of failure are by that same logic uppity and selfish.

Charter school principals and teachers who don't fit the stereotype of lousy educators, according to the NAACP's leaders, are a part of the problem -- they're "slave masters" because they have broken free of the stranglehold of union regulations that protect teachers who have become overpaid babysitters in the traditional public schools.

In the NAACP's Orwellian world, black children who do well, educators who do right by the children, and minority parents who are attentive and involved with their kids' schooling are the wrongdoers, and the unionized teachers who seek to keep open failing schools, and block the more successful charter schools from sharing space in a public school building, are the good guys.

Such racial rhetoric and double talk from the nation's oldest civil rights group is shameful and ought to embarrass them. The truth is that the supporters of high-performing charter schools are trying to save as many minority kids as they can -- one small school at a time.

Not all of them have been excellent or good enough, but some of them have been, and a lot of them are better than what the traditional public school offers minority kids. The successful charter schools should be the models of public education reform rather than the scapegoats of self-described civil rights groups.

After all, the kids who attend and benefit from the successful charters are blacks and Hispanics mostly. Likewise, the kids who are trapped in low-performing public schools are mostly minorities. Why should such schools be kept open and charter schools denied space?

The civil rights groups did not pay much attention and the charter school movement did not much matter to them until charter schools started posting significant educational gains -- and minority parents started lining up to pull their kids out of the "regular" public schools.

Today it matters a great deal, but not because the success stories are doing the "business of 'slave masters." The success stories -- too many and too few to dismiss -- are teaching us a valuable lesson: that minority kids don't have to be consigned to the dung heaps of the public school system.

Not all minority kids fit the stereotype of dropout and at-risk underachiever. They're showing us that behind certain schoolhouse doors education is taking place and turning around kids' lives -- broadening their horizons -- and removing the look of inferiority from their eyes.

Nothing succeeds like success -- it's a mantra that minority kids deserve to know intimately from personal experience. Their individual achievement is much more important to their so-called race than the NAACP's case for group victimhood.

That's because a solid education is the route to equality and instills a sense of individual dignity and pride rather than shame and blame. The staid NAACP is still stuck in the 1950s, when schools purposefully separated kids by skin color and taught minority kids that white schools were better resourced and had better-paid teachers. That was yesterday and yesterday's gone.

Today, the urban public schools, charter and non-charter, have mostly minority kids. Even urban parochial schools, less resourced than public schools with teachers paid less than the public school staffs, serve mostly minority kids who also do better than many kids in the public school system. Nobody's whining about "separate and unequal", successful urban parochial schools!

Black and Hispanic parents, whether or not they subscribe as members of the NAACP, know that education is "the" civil rights issue of our times. They know as well that their children cannot abide any further delay in getting the best schooling they can get right now -- wherever they can get it.

In some cases that must mean closing terribly, chronically failing schools. In others, it means standing in a queue to hit the charter school lottery. These mostly minority parents and I are shaking our heads at the specter of the NAACP standing in the schoolhouse door telling minority kids that the placement of charter schools in the same buildings as traditional public schools amounts to "separate and unequal" in education.

These same parents know -- as the NAACP's former executive director for 22 years (and my mentor) Roy Wilkins counseled many years ago -- that the worst thing that could happen to a multiracial nation like ours is for public opinion to become ethnically polarized and for racial rhetoric to poison the public dialogue about what is needed by way of improving our schools.

We surely don't need any racial tensions stirred, much less ignorant racial rhetoric from a self-styled civil rights organization as to how a minority parent who supports charter schools is "doing the business of slave masters."

Michael Meyers is executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition