While watching the Public Education Forum 2020 on Saturday, one phrase caught my attention: Democratic “hopefuls,” referring to the presidential candidates in attendance.
Given that we call these candidates “hopefuls,” I anticipated hearing them tell us the innovative ways we as a nation would be led into progress and change, especially regarding the status of Black students. As a Black woman, mother and grandmother, the words I sought to hear most were words regarding our children’s access and opportunity.
Instead, what I discovered from listening to the Democratic presidential “hopefuls” was merely their intent to carry out business as usual. I have no confidence in any of the plans they discussed. They all sound inadequate to address the root causes of race-based inequities in public education.
I heard all the talk about wealth tax increases, funding formula repair, teacher and paraeducator pay increases, student debt loan reduction, fully-funded IDEA, tripling Title I and creating universal pre-k for preschoolers and career and technical pathways for high schoolers.
But I didn’t hear what I wanted to hear. I didn’t hear a plan to address existing educational inequities and race-based disparities. I didn’t hear a plan to hold schools—principals, teachers and district leadership—accountable for change.
The Democratic Candidates Are Ignoring Black Families
Even worse, one key component missing in every plan was the role and voice of the parent. We parents know exactly what our Black children and grandchildren face in traditional, government-run schools. We know the data—we live it daily. We recognize in our children’s experiences exactly what we experienced in this same system.
Malcolm X put it powerfully:
We are trapped in a vicious cycle of economic, intellectual, social and political death. Inferior jobs, inferior housing, inferior education which in turn again leads to inferior jobs. We spend a lifetime in this vicious circle. Or in this vicious cycle going in circles. Giving birth to children who see no hope or future but to follow in our miserable footsteps.
We Black parents and grandparents know that it will take a lot more to overhaul traditional public schools than the proposals put forth by these “hopefuls.” We know that systemic oppression will not be addressed simply by throwing more funding into the mix. We know this is especially problematic when the same people who perpetuated discriminatory practices will be responsible for carrying out the plans that go with that funding.
Historically, Black students have not been well-educated in America. This isn’t a funding crisis. It requires a change of heart. Until we address the evils of the social constructs of race and exploitation in America, our institutions will reflect this ideology. Public education is not exempt from this dynamic. Decision-makers constantly talk about us, around us, but not to us. This is why we see decision-makers ignore Black parents who speak about the realities their children face in traditional government-run schools.
Black Parents, Let’s Use Choice to Disrupt This Failed System
Black parents and grandparents, we must make our stand by disrupting the system. As we see the powers that be not changing their behavior, we must respond with our changed behavior. We must no longer allow our children to sit, exploited, in failing schools. We must make informed decisions and vote with our feet to ensure our children thrive, not just survive.
We must take back our power and control over our children’s educational experiences in pre-K through 12th grade, not leave it to the government. We must exercise choices and options even if we have to fight for them. No entity has the right to usurp the fundamental right of parents to choose what is best for our children.
Public school choices and options bring hope to historically failed communities. Restricting and eliminating these choices and options will only prove yet again what we as Black Americans know: that systems of stratification are self-repairing and self-protecting.
The status of Black students in America warrants urgency. No plan, policy or civil rights law will be effective if the same people who discriminate are expected to carry out the plans for change. Our right-now solution to change generational outcomes demands that we protect our right to choose quality public education, so our children aren’t trapped in failing schools.