By Rann Miller, AC JosepH Media Guest Post
While parents in Camden, New Jersey wrestle with the weight of their child attending a charter school versus attending a traditional district public school, Kevin Kargman, says “Algebra’s Algebra” and “English is English.” Mr. Kargman is a pediatrician and a Washington Township resident; a New Jersey suburb. He unenrolled his son, Nick, out of Pitman High School, located in Pitman, New Jersey, and enrolled him at Woodrow Wilson High School to play football.
NJ.com published an article to highlight Nick Kargman’s record-breaking year at quarterback at Woodrow Wilson High School. However, the elephant in the room – a White quarterback on a predominately Black high school football team– unavoidable. The younger Mr. Kargman was labeled the “White QB” In the byline. The article spoke the backlash against Mr. Kargman decision to transfer his son into Woodrow Wilson High School. The Nick Kargman departure, along with the departure of others, led to the disbanding of the football program Pitman High School.
The article noted that Mr. Kargman pays rent on an apartment in Camden to comply with enrollment rules. According to the article, Mr.Kargman, nor the younger Mr. Kargman, have concerns about the education or safety of the younger Mr. Kargman. For the elder Mr. Kargman, algebra is algebra and if it wasn’t safe for his son to attend school in Camden, he “wouldn’t have sent him.”
On the surface, there isn’t anything wrong with Nick Kargman playing football at Woodrow Wilson. Talented Black students from suffering districts like Camden, leave their schools to attend school elsewhere for athletics. For a lot of Black students, they attend private or parochial schools for athletics, but I digress. What is a net positive is that the Kargmans see (if they haven’t before) that Black and Latinx parents are just like them. As Laurie Kargmansaid:
“No matter where you might be from, you have the same goals, and I found that with friends Nick made at Wilson, the parents I met…They want their children to get an education, to play sports, to be happy. The same exact things I want for my son.”
I don’t have a problem with a White quarterback on predominately Black high school football team. However, disregarding the apparent differences in how kids in Camden are educated versus kids in Pitman or Washington Township to justify a football decision is problematic. This isn’t the case of a Whitekid born and raised in Camden playing the starting quarterback at a city school. The phenomena of a White quarterback in Camden under that circumstance would produce a completely different story. No, this is a parent, who saw thehandwriting on the wall at his son’s old high school football team (Pitman was3-16 in two years with Nick Kargman) and transferred him to a better situation.
I get that you can’t necessarily say that this move was for football reasons. Saying that football had nothing to do with leaving Pitman for Woodrow Wilson is just as bad as saying algebra’s algebra. But when you say that algebra’s algebra, English is English, and that “you can go to any elite school in the country and if you don’t study, you’re not going to learn anything,” you’re insulting my intelligence and your exerting your privilege. Black and White parents do have the same goals for their children. However, their journey as families tend to be markedly different due to institutional and systematic racism.
The graduation rate at Woodrow Wilson is 66%, the dropout rate is 50%, and only 50% breaking year stay at the school from one year to the next. That’s not an indictment of Camden students and families… it is an indictment on the public policies that negatively impact the ways in which Black and Latinx children are failed by the state – the institution responsible for their education. Camden residents do not have control over their school district record-breaking and the state is executing a plan that exacerbates that reality by closing public schools and opening charter schools.
At Pitman High School, the graduation rate is 94%, the dropout rate is .3 percent and 90 percent of teachers stay at the school from one year to the next. The residents of Pitman have control over their schools. It’s no coincidence that districts like Camden, Newark, or Paterson are taken over by the state government and districts like Pitman is contending and Washington Township are not. Districts whose governances and city councils are controlled by Black people tend to be taken over. This is not the case for White districts. This happens due to mechanisms in the system that produce racist results. Mr. Kargman didn’t have to account for that in his decision to enroll his son in Woodrow Wilson.
I don’t have proof, but it’s not a long shot to think that Mr. Kargman considered these numbers: Woodrow Wilson has sent 7 players to the NFL since 1974 (4 since 1998). Only ten schools in New Jersey have sent more players to the NFL: one of those schools is neighboring Camden High School. Those numbers tell me that the move to Woodrow Wilson was not an academic decision. Nor was it a decision fueled by the concerns Camden residents have when it comes to their child’s education.
The Kargmans paid tuition for their son to attend Pitman High School. They are currently paying over $1,800 in rent at a luxury apartment complex so that their son can attend Woodrow Wilson High School. With that said, the Kargmans have the financial resources to supplement their son’s education. And while that is not illegal, it leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. Why? Because Black people get arrested for trying to send their children to better schools to get a better education. Those parents risked jail time in an attempt to withdrawal their students from schools like Woodrow Wilson, where Mr.Kargman says Algebra is Algebra.
Again, that is no indictment on the students, parents and educators who work hard and succeed under tough circumstances. It is an indictment on the system of public education for Black and Latinx children. It is an indictment on us as well for not fighting to change it. It says a lot about us as a society that we’ll judge a Black family for bending the rules to secure a decent education for their children yet excuse a White family for bending similar rules to secure their kid college scholarship.
What if a White family of means decides to send their kid to a failing urban school to better position their child to get an academic scholarship? Who wins and who loses in that scenario? I am not saying that theKargmans opened Pandora’s box but there is a Pandora’s box to be opened, and it wouldn’t surprise me if White suburban families were watching the Kargmans and they themselves debate over whether or not transferring to an urban district is a viable option for their kid – in the name of athletic advantage or academic advantage. Parents pay for their kids to go to school all the time. Some pay tuition… and the Kargman’s pay rent. It seems as though the family is getting exactly what they wanted: their son leads the state of New Jersey in passing yards and touchdowns. Nick Kargman already has the interest of numerous D-1 schools and received a scholarship offer from Rutgers. To top it off, he plays for a team that is contending for a regional and state championship. This is why the Kargmans chose Woodrow Wilson High School – because football at Woodrow Wilson and football at Pitman High School aren’t the same thing… neither is algebra.
Bio: Rann Miller directs the 21st Century Community Learning Center, a federally funded after-school program located in southern New Jersey. He spent6 years teaching in charter schools in Camden, New Jersey. He is the creator, writer, and editor of the Official Urban Education Mixtape Blog. Follow him on Twitter: @UrbanEdDJ.