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Ben Carson cuts ribbon at Vaux, despite Philly outrage

The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – and former Republican presidential candidate – Ben Carson was in town for the opening of a high school in Sharswood.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, addresses a crowd at Vaux Big Picture High School on Tuesday. (Charles Mostoller)

Ben Carson cut the ribbon at the new Vaux Big Picture High School on Tuesday, despite public concerns over his position as Secretary of the Federal Housing and Urban Development.

The former candidate for president, who was previously a neurosurgeon, marked the opening of the school at the intersection of 23rd and Master streets. Vaux had been created through a unique collaboration between the School District of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) and Big Picture Learning, a charter school operator.

“I don’t think anywhere else in the city has there been a model like this,” said City Council president, Darrell Clarke, during the celebration held during the school’s opening.

Vaux Big Picture High School is described as an “internship-based, college preparatory experience” and, during Tuesday’s event, Mayor Jim Kenney noted that the school will not be a charter or private school. Instead, he said, it is an open enrollment neighborhood public school in the Philadelphia School District.

With Carson in Philadelphia to cut the ribbon at Vaux, a protest had been planned, however, the city had seemingly prepared for the event with police roadblocks set up in a two-block wide perimeter all around the school. Though there was a protest, Carson wouldn’t have seen it as no one was allowed in or out of the perimeter without the necessary credentials.

In taking his moment before a packed lobby at the school, Carson discussed the need for neighborhoods to support their schools, especially detailing the need for education in modern society.

“Our neighborhoods have to be complete places, nurturing places and I love the concept of public-private partnerships,” he said. “When the community gets involved in the success of the neighborhood and of a school, that is something that remains there forever. In the old model, the government would come in with a big bucket of money and say ‘build this place’ and they would be off to the next project while it deteriorated,” said Carson. “But, when the whole community is involved that doesn’t happen.”

He said that, when you have a community in which a public-private partnership has a hand in creating a school – as happened at Vaux – and, community partners have a chance to make income from the success of the school, “you can pretty much guarantee that it’s going to be successful.”

As Carson spoke, the voices of the ninth-graders that filled the classrooms in the school behind him could be heard filling the air. Along the sides of the stage, some of the, more than, 500 students that attend the school flanked Carson as they listened to his words.

Carson said that at Vaux, “students will be able to explore the mysteries of math, science, [attend] classes on social studies, history, philosophy, civics, computers and sports activities to test the body and the will.”

“To be truly educated, one needs to learn everything. Not just something from this group or something from that group, and you should never hear what the other group has to say,” said Carson. “No, people who are educated are very difficult to manipulate and to control and that should always be our goal in education.”

During the day’s celebration, Carson cut a large ribbon as the school’s ninth grade class, set to graduate in 2021, held each end of the ribbon.

“There was a time in this country when it was illegal to educate a slave. Why do you think it was illegal?” asked Carson, turning to the students at his sides. “Because, even those immoral people knew that an educated man is a free man.”