By Ken StoneAmerica could learn from Finland when it comes to charter schools, civil rights leader Cornel West told a MiraCosta College audience Thursday.
“Why is it Finland is No. 1. In. The. World. In education?” West asked a Town Hall with his trademark enunciation. “How many charter schools do they have? Zee-Roe. Zee-Roe.”
In an hour-long visit with a diverse group of 150 students, staff and community members, the TV pundit and author defended public education while acknowledging “there’s always going to be private schools and there’s always going to be some charter schools.”
But he said America can’t allow charter schools to “become the fundamental focus” of how to deal with what he called the crisis of education. “We want some flexibility, but we’ve got to make sure that at the center of our focus, our concentration, (is) public schools.”
If all public schools are well-resourced, “that means the least of these are being treated right,” he said at the Oceanside school, speaking on the eve of Unity Day, where he was set to lead workshops with titles such as “Advocacy 101: How to Make A Difference” and “Damage Control: 5 Ways to Stop Hurting People.”
But how does all-white Finland rate its schools ranking — as noted in the new Michael Moore film “Where to Invade Next”?
“They educate their precious children the way the rich are educated in the United States,” said West, who earned degrees at Harvard and Princeton.
West said prestigious prep schools like Exeter, Andover and Phillips Academy have two “highly respected” teachers per class with high standards.
“And the students are told every day — whether it’s true or not — ‘You’re brilliant, you’re brilliant.’ After a while, students think to themselves: ‘I’ve got to do something that’s brilliant!” he said, sparking laughter at the school’s Concert Hall. “That’s the kind of public schools we want.”
West also took black musicians to task while making a distinction between ghettos and “the hood.”
“I came out of the ghetto, not a hood,” said West, who grew up in Sacramento, the son of a Baptist minister father and teacher/principal mother. “Our ghetto was a neighborhood, it wasn’t a hood. There’s a difference.”
He told the audience to listen to Donny Hathaway sing “The Ghetto.”
“He sings about love. He sings about empathy, sympathy, ties of support and solidarity,” West said. “That’s the difference between the ghetto and Donny Hathaway and the hood that Kendrick Lamar sings about.”
How many saw Lamar at the Grammies? West asked.
“All that superficial glitz and emptiness. And then here come Kendrick,” West said of the rapper who has attacked “genocism and capitalism.”
Black singers need a “Coltrane kind of intensity, spiritual witness,” West said.
In Thursday’s audience was Judi Cochran, a longtime Oceanside journalist who once organized Black History Month events in the 1990s in local schools.
Cochran attended a West talk the last time he was at MiraCosta — two decades ago.
“He was like on fire” in the earlier visit, she said. But she saw what “seemed to me to be a humility today that he didn’t have 22 years ago…. He seemed different.”
West noted the “imploding” Republican Party in his Q&A session Thursday, but didn’t dwell on the presidential race (he’s a Bernie Sanders advocate and critical of Hillary Clinton).
“He stayed away from the political year,” Cochran said, noting that he mainly addressed issues of equity — racial, socioeconomic and income-wise.
Answering a young woman’s final question about blacks trending into certain social sciences, West concluded his remarks by asking the young people to “take seriously this notion of calling.”
“Your vocation is not the same as your profession,” he said. “But in a market-driven society, when it’s all about money-money-money, status-status-status, your calling can drop out. And you find yourself doing something that you’re really not crazy about. And your soul is not in it. And you run out of gas at 33.
“And then you wonder for the rest of your life: What did I do wrong? Ah, you were so obsessed with the mainstream perception of you and what the mainstream convinces to highlight rather than what you really wanted to do in your life.”
He said the struggles for black, Latino and Asian freedom are all about human freedom.
“The struggle [is] to be free to say what’s on your mind and have integrity and honesty and dignity as you proceed. That for me is bottom line.”
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: