California Charter School Gives John Oliver a Taste of His Own Medicine

The British-born comedian and former Daily Show correspondent John Oliver has gained a massive following based on his string of consistently viral videos. Just this week, his video essay rumination on the election of Donald Trump (hint: Oliver’s not a fan) clawed its way to the very top of Youtube’s trending page.

But Oliver also has a knack for cherry-picking facts here and there, obfuscating key points of the issue at hand for the sake of cementing his own decidedly partisan argument. This is not to say Oliver is glaringly inaccurate; he just makes the point he wants to make and promptly calls it a day.

No video was more contrived than his segment on charter schools, which featured a litany of misleading blanket statements and feats of logical maneuverings that served to smear the good work being done by charter schools across the nation.

Well, one school in Sacramento is fighting back against that kind of lying-by-omission. As a part of a $100,000 video contest from the Center for Education Reform (CER) – aptly named the “Hey John Oliver! Back off my charter school” video contest – Sacramento’s Natomas Charter School has won the top prize.

The winning video featured school-age children walking down the halls of their school building, each child speaking directly into the camera to inform the viewer as to why they don’t want anyone coming in to take their education away, while the camera pans in a single cut from each child’s face to another.

It’s cute to see kids work their way around the brambles of education policy, but what’s more important is the very real world implications of messaging like Oliver’s, which would have the general public think charter schools are all just one big generalized grab bag of ineptitude.

Well, that’s not how it goes at this school, said Natomas Charter School co-founder Dr. Ting Sun.

“Natomas Charter School is proud of its 25 year history of providing quality educational programs for students who may not fit in the traditional box,” Sun said in a statement. “We’re successful because our students are successful. This contest illustrates that not all charter schools can be put in one box either.”

And Natomas is not alone – not by a long shot. As CER Founder and CEO Jeanne Allen said, multitudes of charter schools across the nation are changing the lives of their students, many of whom would have been poorly served by traditional public schools. To dismiss this fact, therefore, is to deny reality.

“Oliver’s show cast charter schools in simplistic terms, and parodied the hard work of millions to create meaningful, personalized opportunities for students,” Allen said. “Charter schools uniquely serve students often not well-served by traditional public schools – which most students would have no choice but to attend were it not for the choices charters offer.”

Or as one student in the Natomas video concluded, “This isn’t about changing schools; this is about changing the world, one student at a time.”

Evan Smith is a Staff Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @Evansmithreport.

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