Manufacturing Dissent

A lesson in what happens when “community activists” falsely claim they have community support

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I announce that a clear winner has emerged to claim the ignominious title of 2013 New Orleans Education Non-Event of the Year: The Collegiate Academies Protests.

Yes, weeks of sporadic protests by activists claiming to represent the families of Collegiate Academiesthree schools reached an embarrassing denouement yesterday, when a much-hyped mass exodus of students promised by agitators failed to materialize.

A small number of outsiders showed up for the non-event on Tuesday.

Activists had urged parents to withdraw their children from Collegiate’s schools on Tuesday as a way of boldly demonstrating the widespread discontent that they claim exists within the school community. Instead, the only “shockwave” on Tuesday came from the rapid dispersion of activists’ hot air when it became painfully apparent that they in no way represent the views of Collegiate’s families.

Of the 800+ students enrolled at Collegiate’s schools — Sci Academy, Carver Collegiate, and Carver Prep — only three students actually withdrew from the rolls. In effect, the students and families of Collegiate Academies voted with their feet — that is, by keeping them firmly planted on the grounds of the CMO’s New Orleans East campus.

A selfie of Elizabeth Robeson

This outright failure is no doubt bitter medicine to swallow for activists like Elizabeth Robeson. Robeson, a graduate student in American History at Columbia University who only recently moved to New Orleans, but soon thereafter convinced herself that Collegiate Academies’ impressive academic performance and high college acceptance rate were, in fact, evidence of the organization’s “cruelty and corruption.” Therefore, Robeson embarked on a self-appointed mission to expose the so-called “injustices” being perpetrated by Collegiate Academies against its students.

The plan she came up with was deception. Posing as a freelance journalist and researcher, Robeson initially approached Collegiate Academies seeking permission to observe their schools and speak with students and parents, with the intention of writing an article about the organization. Instead, Robeson almost immediately began stirring up trouble, which soon culminated in the short-lived, but widely overblown “protest” that occurred the week before Thanksgiving.

A few of Collegiate Academies’ downtrodden students on a visit to Tulane University.

Meanwhile, Robeson took to social media to bring attention to her effort, perhaps in the hope that the protests would become a cause célèbre among anti-reformers. Thus, she setup an anonymous Twitter account posing as a disgruntled Collegiate stakeholder (until she was soon exposed) and was joined in the smear campaign by many of the usual suspects — Karran Harper Royal, the fake organization “CCS NOLA,” etc. — all of whom detailed the terrible treatment that Collegiate’s students have to endure on a daily basis. For example:

One of the “injustices” perpetrated by Collegiate Academies according to critics.

God, it sounds downright…pleasant, doesn’t it? Apparently, Collegiate Academies’ families think so at least, seeing that so few of them joined the Fool’s Crusade being peddled by Robeson, et al. on Tuesday.

At the end of the day, these activists attacked Collegiate Academies not because of any demand from angry parents, but because of what the organization represents — the success of the post-Katrina transformation of our public school system.

Their ultimate aim is to rollback the progress New Orleans has made in education over the past nine years. That’s why CMOs, education organizations, and reform supporters in this city need stand behind Collegiate Academies and send a message to this small band of activists that this community is moving forward, not backwards.

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