by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Frederick Hess and Hannah Warren write for National Review Online about a high-profile dismissal in the charter school world.
Earlier this month, Ascend, the high-performing Brooklyn charter-school network, fired its accomplished founder and CEO, Steven Wilson. What had Wilson done to deserve this? Not much.
Wilson, a school leader with decades of experience, a onetime senior fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and the author of two books on school reform, became perhaps the most visible victim to date of charter schooling’s worrisome turn to politically correct groupthink. Woke enough to declare that his life’s purpose is “addressing education inequalities,” he nevertheless dared to talk frankly about third-rail questions of educational rigor and excellence, and paid the price.
This past summer, on June 4, Wilson penned a blog post titled, “The promise of intellectual joy” that appeared on Ascend’s website. Wilson argued that “democratic” education must strive to “grant all students the knowledge and faculties of mind that had once only been afforded the elite.” He lamented that intellectual pursuit is today too often seen not as a democratic birthright, but as an elitist affectation.
Wilson fretted that values such as “objectivity” and “worship of the written word” had been dismissed as “damaging characteristics of white supremacy culture.” He said there was a “growing risk” that efforts to make schools more “diverse, equitable, and inclusive” could “be shamefully exploited to justify reduced intellectual expectations of students.” Schools must find ways to make clear that “intellectual pursuit” and “especially intellectual joy” are good for all students, of every race and background. If we fail to do that, Wilson argued, “The distinctly American project of equal opportunity will continue to be thwarted.”
One might find all this all to be anodyne enough. Yet, in the progressive-driven culture war that has consumed charter schooling, Wilson’s lofty sentiments were grounds for angry attacks.