Maddow Asks Principal if Her Teachers Will Work at Charter School - That Saved Their Jobs

It's an old saw in journalism that there's no such thing as a dumb question.

On her MSNBC show June 16, Rachel Maddow demonstrated how this belief doesn't have much validity, if it ever did.

Maddow was reporting on a Detroit public high school, Catherine Ferguson Academy, that narrowly missed closing due to budget cuts when a charter school company intervened at the 11th hour (video after page break) --

Just under an hour before the protest was about to begin, Detroit public schools made the announcement -- DPS announces new operator for Catherine Ferguson Academy. The emergency manager telling the world, ' ... we are pleased to announce that we have found a solution.' Principal (G. Anenath) Andrews gets to stay, teachers get to stay if they want to, the students get to stay, the farm and its animals that are at the school all staying, Catherine Ferguson Academy is still a school for girls who have kids. And yes, they celebrated today at Catherine Ferguson, the planned noon protest turning into kind of a party.

Catherine Ferguson will still exist, at least for now. It will be run as a charter school and that's the important fine print here. Charter schools sometimes work, they sometimes don't. Sometimes they give teachers more freedom and better pay. Sometimes they pay less, and do less. Teachers with Detroit public schools are union. Teachers with the new company that will be running Catherine Ferguson Academy will not be union.

The fate of the Catherine Ferguson Academy is in this private company's hands now, but this time yesterday, this school was due not to exist. As of today, Catherine Ferguson Academy has a tomorrow.

Maddow then spoke with G. Asenath Ferguson, the Ferguson school's principal, and asked her about the transition to a charter school --

MADDOW: Ma'am, how do you think the new, I guess it's really ownership is the right term, is going to affect what happens at Catherine Ferguson? This won't be a Detroit public school anymore in the way that it was before, it will be run by charter school.

ANDREWS: You know, I've done a crash, kind of personal crash course in charters in the last 40 days. I think that we'll do better. We'll have more resources, we'll, we've had a lot of people who've wanted to be a part of what we're doing and who have said that they want to contribute to the school, contribute to our early education program, provide some other kinds of programming for our infants and toddlers, our pre-K. So, and the group that we are being chartered by is the same, they're the same people that we went to South Africa with last year. So, they get it. They don't think in small little boxes. They really want kids to experiment and discover and do a lot of things. So I think we'll be better off. I'd be really surprised if I'm calling you in a week saying (inhales in mock horror) or in a year going, help me! But I don't think so. I think we're going to do, I think this is a step up for my girls and the school.

Sounds like Ms. Andrews has considerable experience dealing with the teachers' union.

Then came this question from Maddow, absurd considering the circumstances --

The staff that you have now is union staff, they're in the teachers' union. Under the new owners they will not be union anymore. Do you think that's going to affect your ability to hold onto your staff?

Which is a bit like asking the captain of the Titanic as the liner slipped under the waves -- are you worried about your crew jumping ship to another vessel? (I hear they're hiring on the Carpathia ...).  Andrews' ability to "hold onto" her staff had been rendered impossible due to budget cuts that very nearly shut down her school -- its teachers all on the verge of unemployment -- until the charter school company intervened. Here's how Andrews responded --

I think there will be some people that this is just not a good time to resign or to pull their membership from Detroit public schools. And so those people we will lose. But I think that it is so, this mission is so important that we'll get people who want to be there, who recognize that it takes more than just teaching content, it is, you must be responsible for a relationship with your girls, and I'll miss some of the people that we may lose. I'm praying that some of the people that are just so, so very effective will be able to stay with us.

Watching this on Maddow's show, I was struck by the absence of an element to the story that Maddow has gone nowhere near in a half-dozen segments on Ferguson academy in recent months. The students at the school, all young women of color based on what's been reported by Maddow, are pregnant girls or teenage mothers. Not once have I heard any mention of the boys and young men, many of whom are presumably also of color, who impregnated these girls.

The school's curriculum includes instruction in parenting -- are the fathers included? Do they visit the school, for example, to take part in child care duties while the mothers of their children are in class? If one of them wanted to attend the school, would this be allowed?

The omission is in line with liberal ideology on the black family extending back decades. Recall the fierce backlash against Daniel Moynihan's suggestion in a 1965 federal report that welfare was ravaging black families by creating a financial incentive to push fathers out of them. 

By not even raising the issue of fatherhood at the Ferguson school,  Maddow perpetuates the left-wing belief that black mothers and their children are better off as dependents of the state than as members of intact, healthy families.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts