Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Why compare Ohio mom to Rosa Parks?

After last night's Twitter discussion with some of my favorite folks, including Nancy Flanagan and David Cohen, I posted this comment in response to Nancy's post, "Equal Access: Rosa Parks, Lite" on her Teacher in a Strange Land blog at Edweek.


Good post Nancy.

Valerie Strauss (my favorite ed columnist) was wrong to make the comparison between Williams-Bolar and Rosa Parks. It sounded patronizing and wasn't helpful. Who among us could live up to that standard?

Of course, when white, advantaged parents seek out the "best school" for their kids (often as far away from  impoverished and isolated communities as possible) they are within the law. Why? The law, as it was 55 years ago when Mrs. Parks took her famous bus ride, reinforces, (now de facto),  segregation, or as Jon Kozol calls it, apartheid schooling.

People will resist our current segregated and increasingly 2-tier system of schooling  in whichever ways are available to them. Even the most liberal among us are often protective of the privileges we expect for our own children--privileges that occur only because we may be white or can afford a house in an affluent neighborhood. Of course we tsk, tsk at the thought of  Williams-Bolar being jailed but then somehow feel the need to compare her negatively to Mrs. Parks for lying on a form in order  to put her child with ours.

I like the way you put it: "There has to be something for everyone in building a truly equitable system, or it will never be built. When open access to quality education requires fraud, we're all in trouble."

Of course there's fraud and fraud, just like there's theft and theft. An impoverished mom stealing baby food for her hungry child is not a thief in the same sense as a Bernie Madoff. And we would see no need to make the comparison between her and Rosa Parks.

As John Dewey wrote: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children.”


Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet column, "Not a Rosa Parks Moment" in the Washington Post can be found here. In fairness, I think that Valerie's commentary was aimed mainly at conservative "choice" advocates rather than at Mrs. Williams-Bolar. They were the ones who cynically raised the Rosa Parks banner, as if...

Also worth reading is a commentary by Dewayne Wickham in the Ohio NewsLeader, "Failed educational system forced Ohio mom to act desperately."


  1. I do agree that it was conservative "choice" advocates who positioned Ms. Williams-Bolar as standard-bearer. And that's probably the festering sore underneath all the Is-she or Is-she-not Rosa Parks talk: the craven misuse of the honorable and brave work of civil rights leaders to push forward an anti-public-schools agenda, in favor of charters, vouchers, and privatized services.

    There are many battles yet to be fought and won to make public schools equitable, but Kelly Williams-Bolar is not the poster child for the cause. She is not Linda Brown, either. She has paid dearly (another travesty--9 days in jail) for not capitulating, which makes her a sympathetic figure, but there must be more effective strategies to demand better schools.

    What bothered me about Strauss' column was not her own remarks, but those of the people who agreed with her--suggesting that the people in Copley-Fairlawn worked hard to support their schools and shouldn't have to dilute their academic excellence with interlopers. Scarily similar to what's been happening in Wake County, NC...

    Red flags.

  2. Good points Nancy. But why make the "poster-child" comment? Isn't that just the Rosa Parks thing all over again? Kelly Williams-Bolar is what she is. She's not Rosa Parks. She's not a poster child. She's just a women--a mom--faced with some tough choices, who bent the rules in order to get open up some better opportunities for her child. I would venture to say that many, if not most parents have done the same. I'm the parent of a child with special needs and I am constantly battling and trying to work the system for the benefit of my child. Only that never makes the national news and Washington Post columnists aren't sitting around debating whether or not I am Rosa Parks.

  3. There's lots of mythology around the whole Rosa Parks story as well. Let's not worry about being or not being Rosa. Let's just be about doing the right thing when ever the opportunity arises.

  4. Ah, now I know where the Rosa Parks comparisons with Ohio mom started. I should have known they came from right field.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.