What the Charter School Movement Has to Learn from UkraineFolk

Good morning CharterFolk, 

I send this post just 24 hours after a leader has made a series of threats against the world community graver than any other threats most of us have witnessed in our lifetimes.

The subject for today’s column is the factor that has led this leader to find himself in the situation where he feels he has no other choice but to begin making such unconscionable threats.

Before identifying that factor, I want to make the following points unmistakably clear: 

  • I do not believe that the charter school movement is in a war. 
  • I do not believe that war terminology is generally wise to apply to the struggle that we are engaged in. 
  • I do not believe that the forces that we contend with are anything like the forces that Ukraine is currently struggling against.
  • I certainly do not believe that issues of right and wrong are as black and white in education reform as they are in the military conflict that is playing out in Europe today.  
  • I recognize that we in the charter school movement do not have a monopoly on virtue but have demonstrated many shortcomings across our three decades of existence.
  • Nor do I believe that the vast majority of people working within traditional public schools are anything other than societal heroes whose efforts should be honored.
  • Finally, I do not assert that the personal stakes we confront in our work even remotely approach the stakes that people in Ukraine are encountering every day.

With all that said, I think it necessary to point out that the last six months in Ukraine have offered us a reminder of a fundamental truth: 

Folk matter. 

People who deeply believe in what they are doing …

People who are deeply committed to a cause that they believe to be bigger than themselves …

… Folk …

… really matter.

They matter so much that a force that many thought simply insurmountable has been stopped and has been made to retreat.

That supposedly insurmountable force had many advantages in capacities and resources and sheer numbers. 

But it lacked the key factor that the Ukranians have had.


It is a lesson that, prior to the war, the entire world had forgotten, or had not paid enough attention to.

But now the world has seen.

Just as we should see, we in the charter school movement.

Because we too have gone through a period of failing to properly value the importance of Folk.

The presence of Folk has been a hallmark of the charter school movement going back to our earliest days.  

In fact, it was the presence of Folk that made us a movement in the first place.

Without their belief that they were part of something bigger, we would never have made the progress that we have over the past 30 years, postured against a force whose capacities and resources relative to ours make them as insurmountable as those that have confronted Ukraine.

Now we are living through a period where many new forces have come together, testing whether we will continue thinking of ourselves as Folk.

Some are forces that have been outside our control.

  • Adversaries investing tens of millions of dollars to spread messages misrepresenting our movement in hopes of dissuading people from wanting to be part of it. 
  • New political figures emerging who many of us find simply unacceptable, and who have wrapped themselves in the charter school flag such that some question whether they are any longer willing to stand beneath that banner. 
  • A global pandemic occurring which has accelerated a transition in leadership happening within our movement such that some wonder whether our new leaders will be as deeply committed as those who came before.

While all these challenges are pronounced, none of them are ones we cannot transcend.

There is, however, a fourth force that has been at play …

… one that has been within our control …

… which represents by orders of magnitude, a far graver threat.

It has been our conscious collective decision to downplay our Folk-ness.

Our decision to stop asserting that there is something about our work that is on the right side of history because we inhabit a world where, sadly, our supposedly public schools are barely so.

It is our decision to stop making the case that, rather than public education helping our country overcome historical unfairness, it has become, sadly, one of the greatest perpetuators of that very unfairness.

And it is to stop asserting that the charter school movement exists to force public education to evolve into that fairer, much better thing we need it to be, for absolutely all kids, of course, but especially for those who need better public education most.

In going quiet about these underlying conditions which gave birth to our movement in the first place, we risk disgorging ourselves of the noble purpose that we have felt part of …

… that has made us Folk.

And now we see, we will either reconnect again to those deep bearings that make us all Folk or we will not succeed.

Indeed, for most of us, if we ever get to the point where it becomes resolved that we’re not Folk after all …

… if ever it is demonstrated that we’re not all involved in an effort bigger than ourselves …

… but are just part of some new trade group or some other parochial self-interest …

… well, most of us wouldn’t even want us to succeed.

I know I wouldn’t.

It is why, of all the challenges and threats that our movement faces, above all others is the possibility that we fail to recognize at the deepest level possible the lesson coming out of Ukraine.

That Folk matter.

Should we take to heart that which UkraineFolk have shown us, it will be clear what we need to do.

To bind up again more deeply our commitment to being CharterFolk …

… and galvanizing others to become CharterFolk as well …

… by speaking forthrightly and unapologetically about the great task that we are privileged to take on.

Prior to what we have seen in Ukraine, I would not have used the language that I do today.

But I have been profoundly aware that our movement was needing something more.  

Something new.

And so we made CharterFolk.

I do not at all believe that what we offer here is anything close to the level of effort that is required.

But I hope that it has been a start.

And that from this beginning, in some small way we might have helped you find anew …

… or to find at some slightly deeper level … 

… that which makes you Folk …

… that which makes you CharterFolk …

… and perhaps might have helped prepare you ever so slightly to better take on the immense challenge that lies before us … 

… building the one thing we will need above all others if we are ultimately going to prevail against a force so many to this day believe to be insurmountable …

… our next generations of CharterFolk.