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Classmates lay out debate: "Dictatorship" vs. getting things done

Democracy Prep Charter School Students Testify on Both Sides of Mayoral Control Debate before New York State Assembly from Elizabeth Green on Vimeo.

Maybe the clearest articulation of the debate on mayoral control was laid out Friday by two middle-school students from Harlem. The two boys, students at Democracy Prep Charter School, testified back-to-back before the state Assembly hearing in Manhattan.

One argued for preserving the law as-is, on the grounds that giving one person power allows the most efficient and effective leadership. The other pushed for adding checks and balances to the mayor’s power, on the grounds that total control is un-American and makes him feel a little queasy.

Daniel Clark Jr., a seventh-grader and the first of the boys to testify, asked the Assembly members to consider his family’s dishes. He said the dishes are more likely to get washed if only one family member has sole responsibility for them.

LeiShawn McClean, an eighth-grader, also used a family metaphor. “Student and parent input isn’t just about sitting around a table talking about how bad this dinner is,” McClean said. “We need to really have input on how the schools are run.”

McClean said he took a position against most of his family members — even his mom! — after learning about “checks and balances” in history class. “American government believes that we should have more than just one person in charge, not a dictatorship,” he said. “The whole system of total power makes me very nervous.”

Students at Democracy Prep, which makes civic engagement a school theme, have testified at government hearings before. They encouraged City Council members to extend term limits last year, and last week some students traveled to Albany recently for a lobbying day organized by charter school advocates. The school also organized an inauguration party in Harlem for President Obama.

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