Maybe we should just be honest and admit that we are kidding ourselves. We say that the election of Trump is surprising, but we have seen this coming for many years now. Voter suppression, a Congress that has refused to work on behalf of the people and a constant barrage of social injustices have left far too many Americans feeling alienated, grasping at straws and willing to throw anything against the wall in the hope that something will stick.
Anyone surprised by the outcome of the presidential election has likely spent the past few years living inside of a bubble.
Living in a Bubble
As I think about the adverse effect that this election process has had on so many in our nation, I can’t ignore the parallels I see between the presidential election and the current state of school reform. Many people in America are slowly reeling in from the election of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, we in the school reform community are picking up the pieces after big school choice losses in
Georgia. Through our lens as education reformers, those losses represent a direct hit to equity for disenfranchised children who need and deserve better schools. And we can’t ignore the spike in racially charged incidents since the election—the kind of racism that seemed to live mostly in the shadows until the day after the election. The impact of these events are hard to measure but common sense tells us that [pullquote position=“right”]there is an emotional toll when children are targeted for their race, religion, sexual orientation or residency status. All of this has led me to ask the question, are ed reformers living within a bubble of our own? When setbacks and even pain of this kind wreak havoc on our mission, it really compels us to take a step back and examine what we are doing and if it is bringing us the results that we want. •Are my efforts reaching the real stakeholders who would most benefit from school choice? •Are my efforts even helping to bring more equity in education? •Are my efforts to get information to families having an impact on their ability to make the most informed choice for their families? Or •Are my efforts getting stuck inside the bubble and never breaking through to reach the people who I’m most committed to helping?
Burst the Bubble
Every day I read, share and learn from articles, blogs and op-eds written by very sharp, intelligent and caring people who spend their days fighting for educational equity, school choice and better quality schools. But perhaps that is precisely the problem. At this point in my work, I should be known as an engaged parent advocate who will be in the trenches fighting whether I’m affiliated with ed reformers or not. My support of school choice and quality education is rooted in the uplift of families throughout our communities regardless of who is (or is not) on my side. And still, there are parents and community stakeholders who are dwelling in a vast untapped demographic. Yes, those voters (and by voters, I mean parents and stakeholders) that no one believed would turn out on election day but were being courted all the same. So back to these wonderful articles and blogs. They encourage me to move. To act. To be bold on behalf of kids. They motivate me to do research and to learn more. And that is all hugely important. And good. But it seems like most of the content written by proponents of school reform gets stuck inside a sort of education reform "intranet," only to be seen by colleagues, or friends of those tagged in the pieces. Sure, these pieces take a spin through the Twitterverse and folks battle back and forth but they rarely seem to break out of the echo chamber.
A vital constituency is missing from the conversation. The people who are calling out for help. The ones being written about and spoken for but who never get a true visit or mention except every 2 to 4 years. Our movement’s ground game needs a proverbial shot in the arm, a revival and a resurgence that will intentionally engage old supporters and creatively reach out to new ones. A getting back to basics, if you will. It’s important that people continue to write, research and opine, but we also must open our minds to engage the people most affected by the schools we are working to improve.
I have made a vow since the election to operate with an urgency and vigor that will bring about greater educational outcomes for families in my home of New Orleans and across the nation. I am looking to collaborate like I never have before, seeking better schools for our kids by stepping up the level of my own engagement and groundwork. So let’s burst this bubble. Let’s talk to and write for those who have been ignored for too long. Let’s start a new conversation. Shake the hand or even hug someone different each day in an effort to reach out to a deeper and different group of people. I believe in my heart that we, as reformers, want to educate all children well. However, genuinely getting to know those we are trying to serve is an important first step in getting this right.