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I was dreaming when I wrote this, so forgive me if it goes astray.

But when I woke up this morning I was…shocked.

My tongue is tied because I hear lies that Prince Rogers Nelson has died. All my life I have identified with his work, his thinking, his lyrical power. His work insisted I defend my right to be. It instructed me to be vigilant about keeping the creative part of my brain alive.

Prince came into my life in 1981 when a friend brought me “Controversy,” the fourth album. His parents forbade him from keeping it in their house. He had to give it away because it was a hot property that only select grown folks could have, and only out of view of kids.

Which, of course, meant that I needed to have it.

Like other parents, my dad told me to get rid of it. Instead, I hid the album cover in the back of my closet and I put the vinyl in one of my Redd Foxx album liners. Yes, at 13 years old Foxx and Richard Pryor albums full of hookers, drugs, and sex were OK, but Prince’s gender-defying attack on bourgeois sheep was not.

I played the grooves out of that record. It was more than music, it was something of a new thought system, a mashup of fluid sexuality, tortured religion, and counter-cultural politics that preached an ethic of self-sovereignty.

Am I black or white, am I straight or gay,” inquisitors asked him in the opening song “Controversy.”

His response came in next track, “Sexuality,” where he curtly demanded we let our freak flags fly on high mast.

Reproduction of a new breed, leaders, stand up, organize!” he said.

I took that as a command to be everything I dreamed of in my interior, in the places where I hide secrets fearing the world would beat me back into stereotypical form.

I was all in.

The dates are fuzzy, but this probably was eighth grade for me. If you know anything about boys, especially black boys blooming in racist soul-killing cities, that age can be a rebellious time full of angst, alienation, and internal struggles. I was challenging everything then. Prince’s every word came to me as a giant F-you against a hypocritical world, a trump card against the prison of conventional thinking.

That was just the introduction.

The day “1999” came out I stole $25 in quarters from my Dad’s change drawer (sorry Pops), cut school, took a bus to the Plaza shopping center in New Orleans’ East, and bought the album. It was a revolution in my ears and a revelation in my mind. I cut school for a week straight to decode it’s many messages and found gold in the cathartic release from Reagan induced nuclear fears in the single “1999,” the candid male vulnerability of “Something In The Water They Drink,” and the admission of female domination in “Little Red Corvette.”

When I turned sixteen I transitioned my big virgin Afro into a sweet ass Jheri curl. It dangled past my shoulders and it was spectacular, the best in my high school. Each morning I meticulously parted the bangs so they hung over my left eye. I also started with the eye liner then. Males, with the exception of a few, hated me. Their sisters and girlfriends did not, which, for the boys, was an angering form of social insurance that shielded me against violence (most of the time).

Girls became the sounding board for my poems, songs, and creative ideas, especially the girls willing to cut class. That came to a halt when my tattered report card arrived at home. That resulted in a few memorable ass kickings during which I defiantly transcended my body by staring at the Prince poster on my wall.

Then came the ultimate punishment – my stepdad shaved my curl and mocked me relentlessly. Purple Rain was the point at which I decided ass kickings were over. Though I was singing “When Doves Cry,” I considered the possibility that a step-dad might die.

I ran away shortly after and never looked back.

It was at 19 when life took a few bad turns. I had no money, no home, and no opportunities. A friend’s mom had a stern talk with me that ended with her offering $300 and a bus ticket to anywhere. There was one catch: I had to go somewhere far away for a fresh start where I could better myself.

I quickly chose Minneapolis, because, of course, Prince.

I hit the road with my white guitar and a pocket full of songs written with the structure and math learned from hours of carefully studying Prince albums.

When I got off the Greyhound in Minneapolis I walked a block eastward and stood before First Avenue, the famed nightclub I had seen in Purple Rain. I eventually got hired there – three times – and there was never a shift I worked where it didn’t occur to me that I was standing in a place of exquisite significance.

Life changed once again when I became a dad at 22. Couch surfing and living in cars was no longer an option, so I gave up the long held belief that music fame was inevitable. I joined the practical world of low-wages and stupid hours in retail, service, hospitality, and temporary assignments.

Through it all Prince’s music remained the long thread, sending me messages about the other possible world. The better world where you can always see the sun, day or night.

More than anything I learned from him what it looks like to be fiercely independent and flagrantly self-defining. There must be intense contrarians who dangerously confront the rules made by fallible men. We need anarchists who call out all this world’s bullshit and remind us it is all meant to turn us into conforming obedient dullards.

Prince did that while also offering an alternative post-modern world where liberated people are free to dance, love, and live without the straightjacket of race, class, sexuality, and religion.

He communicated through his artistry the emancipating redefinition of what it means to be black, male, intelligent, and human. Whatever battles we are fighting that prevent us from showing up as our true selves, Prince won those wars long before we knew his name.

Even in sadness I’m filled by knowing it will soon be revealed how much of his life was devoted to using his position to improve the lives of others. His friend and philanthropic accomplice Van Jones is telling that story. He says “there are people in Oakland who have solar panels on their house because of Prince.” There are urban kids learning through #YesWeCode the skills to enter the technology sector. There are families eating today who do not know their food was bought by a rockstar.

And, even closer to my heart, Prince was an early investor in Harvest Prep Academy, a network of Afrocentric charter schools in Minneapolis that have consistently outperformed the traditional school district.

Like his music, these are living legacies that outlive his body.

I’m stunned and sore, but I won’t mourn the passing of a famous man who dazzled the world with dance and glitter. He would hate any form of idolization at this point. I’m just pierced by the Earthly end of a creative worker who was a reliable wellspring of liberating insights into the human journey, mine in particular.

The best I can do is be true to the color purple as he saw it.


Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. gayle siegler

    April 28, 2016 at 5:04 am

    Insightfully written. Thank you for reminding me once had thoughts, once challenged the norm.

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Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.

My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.

I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.

Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?

Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.

I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.

Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.

Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.

In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.

I’ve offered examples before, but here’s another from today’s reading list. In this article on lax oversight of millions of dollars of expenditures in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.

And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.

“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.

Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.

The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.

And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.

But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.

And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.

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Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!

Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!

Charter schools came to the education game as a bipartisan plan to force a “bold departure” from the failure trap that caught too many students in traditional public schools.

Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.

So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?

According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”

His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.

“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.

See his powerful speech below.

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It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education

The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.

I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.

In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.

Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.

Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.

“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.

Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:

People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.

If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?

Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”

Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.

During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.

Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”

Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:

…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.

Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically,  the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?

Again, only she can say.

In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.


In supporting Pataki’s push she said:

It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.

Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?

Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.

Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:

Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.

If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.

But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.

Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.


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