Friday, June 22, 2012

Passion, not politics, fuels Senate candidate

Passion, not politics, fuels Senate candidate

Detroit
Tramping around a gutted, dusty elementary school on the city's northwest side is an unlikely tactic for winning a U.S. Senate seat, but that doesn't keep Clark Durant from doing it anyway.
Because that's who he is — a 63-year-old conservative Republican who 20 years ago left a lucrative career managing other people's money to become an evangelist for urban education through the New Common School Foundation that Durant heads.
He breaks rules, like the one born of a particularly insidious form of bigotry that says urban kids can't learn. Really? Tell that to graduates of Cornerstone Schools. He ignores skeptics, like the ones who insist "no one" will drive into Detroit to go to school. But they do anyway.
He gladly irritates his campaign staff, who'd prefer he spend an hour earlier this week making fundraising calls to would-be donors instead of touring his latest Detroit school with me and the project's architect, Francis Resendes, managing principal of Resendes Design Group.
That's Durant — part rebel, part dreamer, part doer, part business guy all wrapped up in a blue button-down and khakis. He's vying with former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra for the chance to challenge incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow in the November election. And, yes, he can muster his standard line that the country is being ruined by the short-sighted leadership of career politicians on both sides of the political aisle.
But passion? It's right here in the hollowed-out hulk of Alex Dow Elementary School, also known as Langston Hughes Academy. Come September, two public charter schools will be operating on the site — Madison Carver Preparatory Academy for kindergarten through eighth grade and Cornerstone Health High School, a 21st-century interpretation of vocational education for jobs in the health care industry.
"The reason I'm doing this is because this is who I am," Durant says, not-so-subtly setting up a campaign riff. "I'm a problem solver. This is a great place. America is a great place. And we're losing that."
In some ways, certainly. But to walk through an old Detroit school in the midst of revival is to see an enduring optimism embedded in America, too, in the economic construct of "creative destruction" adopted for the transformation of education in Detroit.
As union-dominated Detroit Public Schools wither in a bid to stabilize and survive, the independent Cornerstone and public charters associated with Durant continue to grow, add students and produce graduates. Where the old DPS school on McIntyre deployed security guards and cameras to monitor students, the new school will open classrooms, carpet floors and set high expectations.
This new school rising from the abandoned rot of the old may not be popular with the teachers unions and it may not be the scintillating fodder for a Senate campaign, but maybe it should be. It's about leadership defying expectations and cynicism; creating opportunity and offering hope; proving that allegedly lost souls can find their way to productive lives if they're given the chance to learn in dignity and safety.
How many sitting senators could say that and not be laughed out of the room? Durant could, and anyone who doesn't believe it should attend a partner morning at a Cornerstone School or read the testimonial of a graduate now on his way to work on Wall Street.
It would blow your mind — the young human potential in the process of being fulfilled, the repurposing of real estate abandoned by institutions in decline, the realization of a vision fueled by the determination to succeed because of an innately felt moral imperative to do so.
The political pros may be proven right: Maybe a wannabe senator should be spending every waking minute dialing for dollars, sharpening his newest attack, embellishing a fa├žade divorced from reality. But they all do that, and the results speak for themselves.
dchowes@detnews.com


From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120622/OPINION03/206220344#ixzz1yYqSEnEq

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