All the major Democratic candidates (and some not so major) will be there, including Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Michael Bennet, as well as Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer.
I was so excited for this event, to finally hear these candidates talk about something so near and dear to my heart; the inalienable right of all children in this land to access quality education regardless of wealth, race, religion or zip code.
But then I read more.
This forum, as acknowledged by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is purely about “AFT’s endorsement process.” This isn’t about talking to parents and American families. It’s a presidential audition for an endorsement worth tens of millions of dollars (a fact not lost on Andrew Yang as he thanked the @AFTunion for its invite).
And while the forum is being live-streamed online, it is worth noting that access to this forum on public education is, ironically, far from public. Members of the AFT are invited to enter a contest to gain access, while 1,000 or so carefully selected educators, students, parents and community members have been invited to speak with the candidates about their education plans.
As a frequent contributor to a major education blog, Education Post, I thought I had a better shot of getting in as a member of the press. But not only is this public education forum closed to the public, its press credentials are being offered as selectively as slots at a big city public magnet school.
I, sadly, am one of those barred entry—I received an email today that my credentials had been denied. “All credentialing decisions are made at the discretion of the host organizations and cannot be appealed.”
I am a former union member who has taught in the School District of Philadelphia—the largest district in the state where this event is occurring—and I have also taught in private schools as well as public charter schools.
I currently support and prepare teachers entering the classroom of all types of schools, proud to be a part of a team that is diversifying the teacher pipeline in Philadelphia and Camden.
I am a registered Democrat who has voted Democrat my entire life.
So why can’t I go see these candidates finally talk about education?
I think it’s because I don’t toe the AFT company line, particularly when it comes to charter schools.
Let me explain.
In addition to the AFT, this ‘public’ education forum is sponsored by a member coalition including OnePA which applauds itself for having “Successfully campaigned to stop charter schools in PGH [Pittsburgh] who privatize & extract resources from public schools.”
So now, instead of attending an inspiring, hopeful and long-overdue discussion on the need to radically overhaul our inequitable education system, we are being forced to live-stream this circus wherein a nearly all-White panel talks about educational realities that aren’t their own.
Photos via Wikimedia Commons and Flickr, CC-licensed.
Zachary Wright is an assistant professor of practice at Relay Graduate School of Education, serving Philadelphia and Camden, and a communications activist at Education Post. Prior, he was the twelfth-grade world literature and Advanced Placement literature teacher at Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus, where he taught students for eight years—including the school's first eight graduating ...