Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Public Education in America

JONES: We've got to find a way...the public education part of this thing -- I mean, the public education issue in America. Because it's sort of a ho-hum attitude. And so, that's why we work so closely with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, because issues that we face, they too face in different ways. You know, when we did the whole issue about English-only, that looked like whites only to me. I can see that. You know, now we -- after we've gotten through that period, we realize how valuable it is for our kids to be multi-lingual, you know, to have several languages under their command. But, I don't know where it comes from.

BOND: Well, I've thought that one of the biggest challenges to black leadership, or minority leadership generally, is how do you engage the majority? It's not how you engage the minorities. How do you engage the majority, and that's a challenge that I don't think we've met.

JONES: No, no, we haven't, but one of the ways -- you know, we would be surprised at the vast number of people of good will in this country who are non-minority who understand that the job is not yet done, and who are willing, if called upon, you know, in discreet and purposeful targeted ways, to help, would help. But that -- and I believe that's the majority, for that majority is silent.

BOND: Yes.

JONES: They're silent, and we've got to find ways to engage them. But, you know, where we're falling short is our public education effort. It takes money. It really takes money to get the word out, and the far right has had it, and they've organized. I mean, they started organizing in the mid-70s and they've got a huge organization. Lawyers are part of it, you know, the community organizing is a part of it, but the biggest part of what they do is public education.

BOND: Propaganda, propaganda.

JONES: That's right. And we've got to figure out how -- we don't have to craft the message, we know what the message is. But we have to find ways of coordinating our activities and focusing on this public education. The leadership development has to be with us making sure we get these quality schools for our kids and help our kids to dream. Our kids -- too often, their dreams are dashed. Kids, you know, are inquisitive and creative -- we -- that's beaten out of them, and then the circumstances beat them down. So, we're on the right track when we stick with this whole question of quality public education. If we lose that, we've lost it.

BOND: Yeah.

JONES: If we lose that, this fight that we're in now up to our eyeballs on quality public education --

BOND: Because that's where most kids are and they're going to be.

JONES: 94 percent, and in a democracy? The democracy -- if we don't have a certain level at which we educate or afford all of our kids exposure, so give them the opportunity to have an educated mind, we really, we can implode. And that's real.

BOND: Because you read these surveys that say 60 percent of black people support these measures that are going to de-fund and de-legitimize public education in America.

JONES: Because we have failed. We have failed in the public education effort. When you give that voucher that's worth $2,000 or $2,500 and the private school, that $8,000. Where is the $6,000 going to come from? And it's an illusion.

BOND: But so many people are so desperate for their children. That part of leadership must be responding to this 60 percent. How do you respond to that 60 percent?

JONES: It is. It is.

BOND: Do you just do what the majority wants to do, or do you say to the majority,"No, you're wrong. You're wrong"?

JONES: Oh no, no, you have to tell them -- obligation of leadership

BOND: I mean you may not say it like that.

JONES: Yes, but you've got to have -- I've got three hundred cases across the country, most of them in the South, that have to do with the quality of elementary and secondary education and these are cases that are holdovers for the court still has jurisdiction over, you know, whether they're going to get the computers, where you're going to put the computers, whether or not the school should be built in this community or that community. The only way you can stay in court on these issues is the issue of race and segregation. Although we know economics and class are important issues, there's no statutory basis that I know of, a constitutional basis to get into court on those issues. Poverty -- how can I go to court on poverty? The basis, the legal framework is not there. The legal -- oh, I've got to find a race angle to get these issues dealt with. And so I take what I'm given, and so in these cases -- and we're going from community to community -- you'll be surprised, a lot of folks, a lot of people who are never polled understand the value of public education. They are a little depressed about the quality, and no one has shown them how we can turn this thing around, which is our responsibility.

BOND: But you have to understand their frustration. We've been trying to turn it around for years and years and years and years.

JONES: Yeah, but what we have to have, Julian, what we have to have is this -- we've got to have a dedicated arm of us fully funded and endowed that does this -- public education on these issues. And does it, I mean, with all the sophistication that one has, and we don't have that.