In our fourth post, Lauren Lefty asks us what the story of community control looks like from a Puerto Rican perspective. She excavates histories of transnationalism and empire from above and below; elite ideas and policies from the “culture of poverty” to charter schools circulated between island and mainland, while grassroots organizers mobilized transnational networks along a “continual line of self-determination.” When we take empire and decolonization seriously, and see schools as “a key site to engage questions of sovereignty,” “local control” is not so local at all.
By Lauren Lefty
Four years after the I.S. 201 controversy, and two years after the explosive 1968 teachers strikes, East Harlem’s Benjamin Franklin High School found itself at the center of yet another community control battle. After the transfer of a long-time principal to a nearby high school, community members decided to elect one of the acting deans to assume the vacant position, a former black teacher from the neighborhood who received local parents’ stamp of approval. After the Board of Education denied this request based on claims of inadequate qualification, students staged a walk-out, 4,400 pupils boycotted classes, and students and parent activists eventually occupied the building until their demands were met. The New York Times framed the event as yet another community control dispute in the black-white standoff that now characterized city politics. Yet what the Times reporter failed to mention were the Puerto Rican flags draped from the second floor windows of the brick building on Pleasant Ave., and the unique perspective the hundreds of involved Puerto Rican students, parents, and activists brought to the table. As Richie Perez phrased it in Palante!, the periodical of the Puerto Rican Young Lords, “The issue at Franklin is not just a matter of a principal. It’s a matter of whether of not we have the right to control our own lives…Seize the Schools! Que Viva Puerto Rico libre!”