“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Nelson Mandela
As a parent, by law, I am forced to send my children to public schools. As a result, it should go without saying in the world of compulsory public education that schools must foster learning in a safe, culturally responsive, and healthy environment for all our children, educators, and support staff. But the sad reality is we do not live in a perfect world.
In my opinion, one main reason for this imperfect world in education, controlling for all about me egos, is the adult war of ideologies and rhetoric in education. The troubling part is when these ideologies shape public policy they benefit some children but not all children.
Needless to say, this adult war of ideologies and rhetoric has reached critical mass, and vulnerable populations are suffering the consequences – big time. (For the record, I define vulnerable populations as Black, brown, poor white children, to include foster care children, military families and those with special needs.)
“The problem is that, whatever one thinks of today’s reform catalogue,… For me, reform is more a matter of how one thinks about school improvement than a recital of programs and policy proposals”
As an “everyday” mom, I really reflected on this great read because I had to wonder what is the state of mind of any decision maker who thinks it is okay to force parents, especially our most vulnerable, to send their children to schools that are either unsafe or simply cannot meet the educational and life needs of all their students. Sigh…
From a Connecticut parent’s perspective, this will be the first in a three-part blog series that discusses “real time” inequities and “real time” effective solutions in PreK-12 education that I have learned about from meeting diverse parents, students, educators, community leaders, researchers, and lawmakers..
I had the pleasure of visiting various states over several months where I was able to learn more about what’s possible when parents and families have access to user friendly data and effective solutions that fully engage, educate, and empower us to find the best educational opportunity for our children – the students – who are directly impacted by the adult decisions in education.
Take for example, the Kansas City’s Show Me KC Schools whereby parents, families and the community are learning about the various educational opportunities available to them because the research is clear – a one size education “delivery” system does not fit all students and their individual needs.
The Divided States of America In Our Classrooms
Whether you want to face this fact or not, we are living in a very Divided States of America, and our children, families, and communities—of all races and socio-economic levels—are suffering the consequences of this division. Increased acts of violence and discrimination attest to this fact.
As a mom and a human being, I learned one thing about hate and violence: It doesn’t care what color you are, your age or your income level. Left unchecked, hate breeds hate, violence breeds violence, and all of this is trauma – especially for children!
With so much happening in the world, in our public schools and in our communities, the question becomes: How are our children? What are we doing to meet, not only their academic needs, but their civic and social and emotional needs as well? How are we working with children to make sure they can overcome the divisiveness that’s become an everyday part of our society?
Please note: I didn’t just say how are the Black children or brown children or white children. I asked how are all children. Period!
Why? Because we are a nation of diverse faces, and we should be learning daily how to live peacefully with each other, even if we disagree. But the sad reality is adults have brought messy partisan politics into education. That hate and division has spilled over into classrooms across America. And it is imperative that education decision makers own this truth!
Unsafe Schools and Inequitable Access: Customized Learning as a Solution
Many parents feel like me, that the heartbreaking reality is that our country’s existing educational system is doubling down on keeping some of our most vulnerable children trapped in schools that are not only unsafe but are not ensuring equitable access to high-quality educational opportunities.
If we are going to promise a better future for our students and literally leave no child behind, regardless of their ZIP code, then we must embrace the present evolution in education. We need culturally responsive universal educational choice that supports the whole child because it is time we meet children where they are in life, embracing their need for both academic and non-cognitive skills development.
As a society, we must customize education to help meet the civic, social, and overall well-being of our children and future workforce.
If we don’t meet that obtainable goal, we will never right the current imbalance in our public education system, which is suffering from ideological, values, cultural, political, and power clashes. We will never be able to achieve our obtainable goal of providing high quality opportunity for all PreK-12 students, not just those with the financial means or the ability to move.
Jobs will continue to be outsourced from our communities. Individual survival will become a public safety issue, and our young children may grow up likelier to enter the prison system as a financial burden than the workforce as taxpayers who can help stabilize the fragile economy in our state and local communities.
And if you dare to have the audacity of hope to improve the quality of life for our most vulnerable children, a change in perspective, tone and process is warranted to bridge the traditional, and in some cases the nontraditional, impasses between parents, educators, community leaders and policy makers.
Parents, Stay Woke and Demand More Educational Opportunities!
I am writing this blog in a three-part series because I still haven’t shared my journey about my attendance and participation at the October 13th-15th historical Fellowship organization’s “Stay Woke” Inaugural National Black Males Educator convening. This event that took place in Philadelphia made one thing very tangible and clear for this Connecticut Black mom of four children: Black History matters every day, not just in February. In addition, the research is clear, all students, especially our most vulnerable, the middle-class and white Millennial’s children, can benefit from an equitable diverse teaching workforce.
“researchers have documented that students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.”
Nor have I shared my recent visit to Indianapolis, where I learned about a high school with a challenging, college-preparatory curriculum offered in a multicultural environment that integrates work experience in a professional workforce setting within the school week.
I’ll write about both experiences in this space soon, and I hope you’ll look at them both from your perspective and through my eyes, as a mom concerned about the overall safety and well-being of all children.
Why does any of this matter? Because every child and their uniqueness matters. No child can learn effectively in an unsafe and unhealthy school environment. For that matter, no adult can work effectively in an unsafe work environment. And the most important thing—something I think we can all agree on—is that we have to start treating our children as more than test scores.
In addition, a teacher should be free to be creative, and it’s not fair to expect a teacher to successfully educate 25-30 kids in a classroom that have 25-30 different learning styles. It’s not cost effective and not realistic. Customized learning matters.
And for those who are concerned that providing universal educational choice somehow takes away from traditional public schools, then know this: Parents are the first responders in their children’s lives, whether you like it or not!
“parents are very capable of speaking for themselves, many just need access to supports that teach them how to navigate the educational landscape.”
We choose their doctors, dentist and the grocery store where we will buy their food. If the doctor manages our health care effectively, we stay. If not, we search for another doctor. If the dentist meets our children’s oral hygiene needs, we stay. If not, we find another dentist. If a grocery store has poor quality and outdated food, we report them and find another store. This methodology should apply to education as well. It’s just that simple.
Bottom line: When things work for our family, we stay, and if something is not working, we find another option. The search may become time-consuming and require additional support to research other options, but because we love our children, their safety, education, and overall well-being is worth the sacrifice.