Some Milwaukee private voucher schools are ‘totally dehumanizing,’ say two concerned citizens

MarvaAndGailThe sudden September closing of Daughters of the Father Christian Academy, one of Milwaukee’s controversial private for-profit voucher schools, has drawn attention to conditions in these schools and their wider effects.Marva Herndon and Gail Hicks, two grandmothers in Milwaukee who are concerned that the spread of voucher schools in the city’s largely African-American north side is harmful to both children and the community, have formed Women Committed to an Informed Community. Citing the “school-to-prison pipeline”, Hicks says these for-profit schools are contributing to the problem:

“It’s removing adults and children from the community, creating a subculture within the community of massive illiteracy. Many things have been removed from the schools so that the children do not have access to these resources so they are prepared. They are not taught English, math, science, but they’re taught just to take these tests.  This is creating a real problem in the community. I know that it has been said that the community, or the state, needs workers. So, these children are basically being groomed to be what we call ‘industrial slaves,’ where all they need to do is be able to push the button at the whim of someone else.”

Some of these voucher schools have an atmosphere which Hicks describes as “totally dehumanizing.” Herndon is worried about the impact of sending kids to a school where she says they’re pretty much in prison all day. She calls it “psychological warfare” on the students:

“The school maybe doesn’t have windows. They aren’t allowed to be children and have playtime. They’re forced to walk with their eyes looking down and their hands behind their back. Now, that’s the way people are treated in prisons. We found out how severe that was last summer when we took, at that time, State Representative Mandy Wright, along with some reporters from the Progressive Magazine, on a tour of several schools here in the city. That’s when we first realized how bad that was, and the impact on your psyche when you’re in that environment, because I think, when we came out of that particular school, all of us needed a debriefing session. Who would willfully allow their child to go to a school like that? Well, what we see is quite a few parents because they don’t know any better. But, that’s part of training the kids to not be independent thinkers.”

Hicks says they have had little luck finding success stories in Milwaukee’s school choice program:

“We haven’t been able to locate anyone that’s willing to come forward and say, ‘Yes, I attended XYZ School. Things really were good there. I got a great education. I was able to go on and do whatever.’  If that is the case, we would like to showcase that school and maybe have other children go there, but, so far, we have been unsuccessful.”

Listen to interview with Marva Herndon and Gail Hicks: