Shortly before President Barack Obama delivered the State of the Union on Tuesday night, comedian Bill Cosby joined with school choice advocates to discuss the “State of American Education.”
According to Cosby, the country can try as many education reforms as it wants but the real key is getting parents involved and concerned about their children’s education. Cosby added that additional funding is not the answer to America’s education woes.
“Cuts, cuts, cuts, that is what we hear, but education is not a thing that big bucks happens to be the answer [to]. The answer is — with education comes teaching children to respect and love questions, looking for the answer, reading,” he said, explaining that these responsibilities fall on the parents, teachers, and school officials.
Cosby demanded answers from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, asking why, with so much money going into the schools, the taxpayers still cannot get the value they put in. Instead of whining about cuts, he said, schools and towns should be looking for solutions outside the box.
“Okay — we know there are cuts, then let’s work with it. Let’s go to churches, find retired teachers who would like to join us in the basement of the church to work with the child,” Cosby said. “There are ways we can work around this and we have to talk and we have to move.”
The telephone press conference was moderated by Michelle Bernard, president of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics, and Public Policy. It was a part of the celebration of National School Choice Week, currently being recognized in all 50 states this week.
Education “is the key to achieving the American dream,” Bernard said to the audience. “One of the things that school choice does for people that live in low-income neighborhoods is it gives your child the ability to leave a school that is low performing — if you can get to a point where your dollars follow your child — and go to a school that is higher performing. When you introduce competition into the public school system, most studies show that schools start to do better when they are competing for students.”
National School Choice Week runs from Jan. 22-28 and is focused on empowering parents to get the best educational options for their children, “from encouraging increased access to great public schools, to public charter schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, private schools, homeschooling and more.”
Cosby wrapped up the conference with a personal anecdote about how his sixth grade teacher was instrumental in getting him on the educational straight and narrow.
“I am 74 years old, I’ll be 75 July 12. I stopped studying in 4th grade on my own, because I had a picture of what my life was like: We lived in the housing projects and I was not a sad kid, I just liked to play. And so I gave up and then I ran into this woman in 6th grade,” he said, explaining how none of the school kids wanted to have “this woman” as a teacher because she forced her students to read, do their work and re-do poorly completed homework.
According to Cosby, his mother was the one who sought out this teacher.
“For some reason, I wound up in the front seat directly in front of her desk,” he said. “When I graduated from 6th grade, I went from low grades to all A’s because this woman stayed on my case and she wrote on my report card, which I have today — this white Orthodox Russian woman, 4’11’’ — ‘I’m afraid that as William moves on to 7th grade’ — which was junior high school — ‘that if he does not have the same intervention, that he will slide back to his old ways.’”
“I am telling all you parents,” Cosby said. “You need more Mary B. Forchicks in the classroom.”
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Tags: School choice
Bill Cosby walks outside the courtroom during a break on the third day of his sexual assault trial in the Montgomery County Courthouse June 7, 2017 in Norristown, Pa. Mark Makela/Getty Images hide caption
Bill Cosby walks outside the courtroom during a break on the third day of his sexual assault trial in the Montgomery County Courthouse June 7, 2017 in Norristown, Pa.Mark Makela/Getty Images
Every Friday morning when I was very little, the women who ran the daycare center I went to would gather all the kids into a circle and goodnaturedly quiz us on what happened the night before on The Cosby Show.
I distinctly remember the first time I sat in that circle having no idea what The Cosby Show was, feeling whatever pre-kindergarteners understand as shame. The center's staffers were all black, as were we, the assembled moppets. Watching the Huxtables was quite literally my first homework assignment.
The show was, of course, the most popular program in America for the better part of a decade, in no small part because it managed to be both very funny and allowed white audiences to cotton to the wealthy, relatively apolitical black family at its center.
But it owed no small part of its influence to the fact that black folks considered its success part of a larger civic project — around race and representation and respectability — to which they had certain obligations. (Cosby's cultural ubiquity in the 1980s was even more pronounced for us Philadelphians; he was a local boy done very very good, more famous and avuncular than Ben Franklin.) Like so many important black institutions, The Cosby Show — and Cosby himself — was a private concern entangled with broad, collective stakes. "Rep sweats" on a trillion.
You could hear a nod to these dynamics on the trial's opening day, as Cosby arrived at a courthouse in Montgomery County, not far outside the Philly city limits, for his sexual assault trial. He was escorted by Keshia Knight-Pulliam, who played his youngest TV daughter Rudy, on The Cosby Show.
"I can only speak to the great man that I know and love, who has been so generous, who has been such a philanthropist and giving back millions of dollars to education and schools," the now 38-year-old actress told reporters.
It was a qualified defense of Cosby that still managed to neatly sum up some complicated context: Cosby had long encouraged the linking of his own fortunes with the condition of black folks more broadly.
As the dozens of rape and sexual assault accusations against Cosby have piled up, both he and his lawyers have tugged at that sense, trying to rally black support by suggesting that the claims are at least in part fueled by racism. Other black luminaries have played this hand — Clarence Thomas and O.J. Simpson, most notably — but Cosby's invocation has a different weight, however one might feel about its legitimacy.
Unlike those guys, he had been a race man for decades, and he had rewarded those communal stakes with literal investment. Black colleges and prospective black college students were buoyed by his philanthropy, while his collections of black art graced important museums. Even before his late-career turn as black America's moral scold, Cosby had spent decades leaning into his popular image as a paternal figure to bolster his influence as a paternalistic one.
And yet there have been notably few high-profile defenses of Cosby; most of the statements from his former Cosby Show cast members have been along the lines of Knight-Pulliam's; respectful to the man they still call "Mr. Cosby" but also cautious and tepid.
It did take a while for the drumbeat of accusations against Cosby to spur the many black institutions linked with him to start distancing themselves from him. In 2015, Spelman College, the famed all-women's institution in Atlanta to whom Cosby and his wife Camille donated $20 million in the 1980s, quietly did away with the endowed professorship that bore his name. Central State University, a black school in southwest Ohio to whom Cosby had bestowed millions, removed his name from the building that housed its school of communications. Other institutions have made similar calls — and for schools without large endowments, these are tough decisions. That all these moves were met with little uproar is telling of how much Cosby's power and influence has waned.
That's why it's worth noting how much the very real political position Cosby himself occupied — the kindly cultural ambassador of Negritude — has become if not entirely outmoded, then at least viewed far more skeptically.
Blackness has always been a variegated, sprawling thing, but there is far more room now for expressions of it in the wider culture. And where the Huxtables were once the template for black aspiration, there are now many — most notably the flesh-and-blood family that took up residence in the White House until very recently.
To the extent that folks have begun the knotty work of disentangling Cosby's fate and cultural legacy from their own, it's in part because there is no longer the same need for the sole figure anointed as a kind of racial emissary Cosby — a role Cosby once clearly reveled in playing.
No matter how his trial concludes, Cosby will live out his last years in an America in whose culture he has become far less essential, an obsolescence that he, ironically, helped usher into existence.