Brown on the Board of Education

Mukul Datta is running for the School Board in Charlotte, NCA bit of cyberhypercavicunicucunctatalinkus* (I’m sure you can figure out what kind) revealed to me that there is another local candidate of South Asian descent running for office this Tuesday.  In Charlotte, North Carolina, Mukul Datta is far from a sure bet for  District 2 seat of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Board of Education–two other people are running for the seat: the incumbent Vilma D. Leake and Sheila Jackson,  receiver of the Charlotte Observer endorsement. Because this is a tiny race in the grand scheme of things, it’s difficult to find anything substantial about Datta that he didn’t write himself. This article on the race includes a candidate who has since thrown her weight behind Jackson–among the other three, Datta seems to be most focused on reassessing spending priorities and tackling the issues that persist after Charlotte’s federally mandated desegregation order was dissolved 4 years ago.

Retiree Mukul Datta spent more than two decades as a teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. He gives the district a failing grade.”To me, more and more, it is separate and unequal – divided by class and race,” he said.”Many of the board members are saying they do this for the children, but the first question that comes to my mind is ‘If you love the children, why are you talking their money from the classroom and spending it on retreats?’” he said. He says CMS wastes money that could be used to boost teacher pay, citing board member travel and high-priced retreats as areas that can be cut back.(Link.)

Up in Connecticut, Satish Chandra is seeking reelection to the Amity Board of Education, and here in California Ranjit “Ricky” Gill had been appointed as the student representative to the State Board of Education by Schwarzenegger. Scanning the Indian American Center for Political Awareness newslist, I see that in Santa Clara Ric Singh, Kuldip S. Mahal, Stuart Johnson, and Subash Bhatt have lost previous bids for school boards seats.

Board of Education debates may seem somewhat dry and unsexy compared to state legislatures or Congress. But running the public schools is an integral element of our democracy, and curriculum choices and priorities build the foundation for most voters’ opinions. I’ve always been a bit fascinated with the politics of Boards of Education ever since I read The Day They Came To Arrest The Book when I was in junior high.   Board members often vote to override teachers’ curriculum choices by banning books from district reading lists–like when Pakistani-American Dr. Mohammed Ali Chaudry voted to ban Midnight’s Children. They figure out how to assign students to magnet schools, dealing with all kinds of socieeconomic and racial issues. (See the oft-simmering controversy with Asian-American parents in San Francisco.) School Boards have a big say in how bilingual education is implemented, which has a huge impact on new immigrant children. And they sometimes try to stop students from learning about evolution.

These are all issues that a desi Americans might have a strong point of view on. Actually, I just wish more geeks would run for School Board positions. My physics department chair won an election to his local school board in 1999, which exposed me to a lot of the issues of science education that rarely get manged by experts. It also reminded me that you don’t need to be a professional politician or retired teacher to be on the school board.

Nevertheless Board of Education spots are often stepping stones to more general political entities. Iowa State Representative Swati Dandekar’s first elected position that I can find is on the Linn-Mar Community School District Board of Education.

*Hey, a little self-promotion never hurt, right?  

3 thoughts on “Brown on the Board of Education

  1. The superintendent of the school district I grew up in was a South Asian by the name of Raj Chopra. He won high marks from the press and community. Unfortunately, the district school board did not like him and ultimately forced him to resign.

    Just pulled up an old newspaper article written after his resignation. One good quote:

    I remember my professors telling me, “With your color, your national origin, your accent, you may have problems finding a superintendency.’ And I said to them, “America is great because American people are good. I believe in their sense of justice, and I’m willing to take my chance

    The newspaper article cited “management style and policy issues” as the official reason for his dismissal.

  2. Not a small issue for me. My wife and are planning to move to the Charlotte area and based on his platform I wish I were there now to vote for Mr. Datta.

  3. Speaking of random political shenanigans: Apparently incumbent Republican Mayor Bloomberg of NYC is doing his best impression of Richard Pryor in Brewster’s Millions. Despite being up on challenger Freddie Ferrer by almost 30 points in some polls he’s still bombarding the airways mercilessly. Even saw an ad in Urdu this past weekend on one of the desi cable channels here. Bloomberg even speaks in Urdu (or highly formalized Hindi) at the end.