08 Feb We Have a New Ed Secretary: What Does This Mean?
WE HAVE A NEW ED SECRETARY: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Yesterday I went with a friend to do a little self-care and get a manicure and, inevitably, the conversation with the nail technicians turned to politics. It’s not all that interesting that I went and got my nails done, but that every single person in the salon knew about the huge debate over the new Secretary of Education. I say this not to shame them, but I did ask if anyone could name another Education Secretary and none of them could. What this tells me is that people are engaged and informed and, if we’re honest, really upset about it.
This is excellent news. We’re all paying attention to this and our elected officials know it.
That said, I understand the concern — I’ve never before seen so many people heavily invested in politics. The talk on The Hill last Wednesday was that this was the most call volume they’d ever seen from the American public in voicing concerns.
Public schools have helped many, including me. Aside from a short period during which my family sent me to a private Catholic school, the bulk of my education has been public, including undergrad and grad school. Professionally, I spent 23 years working in the public school system. That’s why I started Being Black at School. All those years in the system taught me how we’re doing things really well and also how we could be doing them better if we paid attention to equity.
Here’s the most important part of that: paying attention to the equity for students actually helps ALL of them. When educators in the classroom are providing equitable instruction, a multicultural and varied curriculum, and when access is provided fairly then all students, including white students, then the whole of our student populations do better.
We’re seeing that in the pushback from the travel ban that was recently instituted, aren’t we? The people rose up, rushed to the airports, and were heard. The same is happening in the education world.
This begs the questions: what can we do to protect and provide high-quality public education for all children when the data clearly tells us there are not gaps but craters in equity gaps?
First, watch the narrative. As Amy Siskind has kindly reminded us for a full 12 weeks now in her weekly roundups with the following headline each week: experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember. That means listening carefully to the education reform language of “failing schools” and “bad unions.” It’s always been mind-boggling to me that some of the parents I know who are nurses or firefighters or police officers (all unionized) seem to balk at the teachers’ unions that provide some protections that aren’t as flashy to make headlines. Basic things like requiring desks and textbooks are actual things that some teachers have to fight for in their contracts. Remember that.
Second, listen to the “quality education” rhetoric. There will be dog whistles, white saviorism, and flat out racist initiatives introduced. Every one of them needs to be vetted, and sometimes they sound really good but include things that will ultimately marginalize and deny access to vulnerable students: for students of color, students in poverty, and students requiring special services.
Finally, understand the issues. While there is a huge public v. charter school debate, and it cannot be denied that some charter schools are doing excellent work with students. Conversely, some public schools are doing excellent work with students. They have more in common than they don’t but the issue always comes down to budgeting and money. Public schools fight for every dollar and they do a lot of work with little resources. Unless you live in a place where referendums pass easily or where bonds must be passed to alleviate overcrowding or other issues, then public education is constantly under pressure.
I’m really appreciative at the moment for groups like Teachers United (out of the state of Washington) who are committing to working together and sharing statements like this.
Image take from Teachers United with proper credit to them.
UNDERSTANDING THE ISSUES MEANS THIS:
Get involved locally: join the PTO/PTA at your school. Talk to the teachers and ask them what issues are most dire for you to lobby for as you call and talk to your representatives.
Start a local chapter of BBASxYourCity and join a network of individuals working at the grass-roots level across the nation to promote equity and safety in all schools for all students. Click here for details.
Put pressure on school boards to come out strongly with statements about how they’re going to respond to educational initiatives but also what plans they are putting in place to ensure they care about equity and the whole child. When our schools are taking care of everyone, and they can assure us WITH BOLD STATEMENTS, then they are reminded of who they serve. Often, this is reflected from white, middle-class parents and isn’t always equitable.
Get involved nationally, but pay attention to state politics. Right now, every politician knows that the populace is paying attention and is re-energized. Keep that pressure on them — all of them, regardless of party or ideology.
This is the plan. Let’s work it together.