Last Thursday, John Stossel's Fox Business show focused on how the American public education system is failing and touted vouchers and charter schools as options preferable to public schools. To illustrate his point, Stossel had on several guests, including Ben Chavis, former principal of the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, California.
Stossel ostensibly selected Chavis because the school drastically improved its students' performance under his leadership. However, what viewers of the show were not told -- but what became clearer as the show went on -- is that Chavis has used controversial and racially charged discipline tactics during his tenure as principal.
According to a profile of Chavis that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, he rewards students who achieve good grades and attendance records with money. He publicly humiliates students who break school rules, in some cases pinning notes with negative messages to their shirts. Chavis also uses racial stereotypes and insults when speaking to students, such as “lazy Mexican,” and wrote in his book, Crazy Like a Fox, that he calls students “darkies” and “half-breeds.”
Some parents have withdrawn their children from the American Indian school in response to Chavis' brand of discipline. A visit to American Indian's website gives an insight into Chavis' approach through his “Ten Commandments,” which include:
5. Thou shalt be aware that “affirmative action” for minorities is the most blatant form of racism in the United States. Why dost thou think Africa, China, or the Navajo Indian Nation does not have affirmative action programs for white people?
Chavis resigned from the school in 2007 amid a controversy in which Chavis allegedly hurled insults at a visiting graduate student for arriving late.
Viewers of the show saw some hints of Chavis' approach. Stossel played a clip of the principal commenting that a student who went into the science field would be “a rare bird” because she was Mexican. Chavis defended himself by saying he was being “honest” with her. At another point in his appearance, he said that he preferred “the Klan” over teachers unions, and later on he referred to teachers at his school as “that Mexican” and “the Hebrew.” This last comment proved to be too much even for Stossel, who accused his guest of racism.
Stossel didn't apologize, however, for bringing on someone with a history of racially provocative comments and controversial discipline tactics to speak as an expert on education.