Magazine article District Administration

Oprah's Edifice Complex: What Lessons for Educators Emerge from Oprah Winfrey's $40 Million School?

Magazine article District Administration

Oprah's Edifice Complex: What Lessons for Educators Emerge from Oprah Winfrey's $40 Million School?

Article excerpt

I HAVE LONG BEEN AN ADMIRER of Oprah Winfrey (see "Everything I Know About Reading Instruction I Learned from Oprah Winfrey," Curriculum Administrator, May 2000). She has been a force for good and a champion of literacy. And because Oprah said to do so, millions of Americans have read outstanding literature from Steinbeck to Toni Morrison.

By now you have undoubtedly heard about Oprah's Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, which has been the subject of controversy. Some people are offended that the school cost $40 million to build and features fine china and trillion thread count sheets. I don't care! Ms. Winfrey is free to spend her money any way she wishes. Besides, don't South African girls deserve the finer things in life?

I'm also not interested in discussions of how many less glamorous schools could be built for the same money, or that only girls are admitted. I think that Oprah's school handpicked academic winners and is making them even bigger winners, but that's her prerogative. I'm even willing to ignore the accusations that the girls have been separated from their families and have highly restricted visitation privileges. It's harder to ignore the cultural insensitivity expressed by school officials who tell poor parents to bring books instead of food for their daughters. I've been to Soweto, and there is no Barnes & Noble. Even Oprah's ad hominem attacks on the lack of educational motivation among American students were misguided, but I forgive her.

Having said all of that, I do not question Oprah's generosity or sincere desire to make the world a better place (although I do wonder how much she earned from her related school television special and the exclusive feature stories on Good Morning America and in People magazine).

The More Fundamental Issue

Even a casual Oprah watcher can name Ms. …

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