A few years ago Ruby Bridges had a dream for the William Frantz Elementary School, the school she made famous for breaking the color barrier in New Orleans. Of course, Hurricane Katrina was hailed by free market champion, Milton Friedman, as an opportunity to completely remake the New Orleans Public School system and privateers rushed in to fire all the teachers and turn all the schools into charter schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan repeated Friedman’s assertion in 2010, stating that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.”
The Ruby Bridges Foundation had an excellent idea: honor the history of her efforts and create a school that would “feature a social justice curriculum” and focus “on history, civil rights, civic engagement, leadership development, and service learning.” And they also envisioned a Civil Rights Museum as part of the site. The foundation applied for a charter from the state of Louisiana. I’m not sure what happened to her application, but I can speculate that the cost of renovating the William Frantz Elementary School was cost prohibitive. Coming to the rescue was Crescent City Schools, a charter school operator funded by venture capitalists through the Newschools Venture Fund, public tax dollars and through donations they solicit on the website. Acknowledging that the school site’s history is significant, Kacie Fusilier of Crescent City Schools stated, “We recognize the symbolism of us returning children to that school.” And she explained that they are “working to cultivate a stronger relationship with Bridges herself.”
Of course, the fact that William Frantz Elementary School has been renovated since Hurricane Katrina is a good thing. And a few days ago, the school unveiled a a statue of Ruby Bridges to commemorate her historical act of social justice when she was just a child. It’s a beautiful statue. However, I can’t help but cringe at the fact that the school has been renamed and now bears the name Aliki Academy. Why not maintain its original name to honor its place in history? Or, better yet, if the charter school operators truly wanted to honor the symbolism the school represents, why not rename it the Ruby Bridges School?
You will not find the concept of social justice in Aliki Academy’s mission statement. Rather, they promote things like grit and excellence. Their philosophy reflects the no-excuses attitude so prevalent in charter schools:
The educational philosophy of the Akili Academy of New Orleans is driven by our college preparatory mission. Our philosophy is based on four core values:
- All students can learn, regardless of background.
- Great teachers and great teaching are essential to student academic success.
- A highly structured, focused, and accountable school culture drives student achievement.
- Data analysis drives effective instruction.
Ruby Bridges’ place in history should be honored. She did attend the ceremony unveiling her statue at Aliki Academy along with her mother and her former teacher. It would have been so much more meaningful, however, if the school actually bore her name. I wonder if a hundred years from now, or even twenty years from now, people will lose the historical memory of what occurred at the William Frantz Elementary School? Will people ask why the there is a statue of a little girl on the site and why the school has two names on its building? Where is the social justice in erasing Ruby Bridges’ name from the school?