My New Bowflex Helped Me Realize That Politicians Won't Stand Up for Kids Unless We Make Them

Jan 19, 2018 12:00:00 AM


Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo delivered her State of the State address earlier this week. She is beginning the final year of her first term. Her address was predictable in that it had some stellar moments and well-deserved applause lines as well as some glaring omissions. But I am already indebted to my governor because her address got me through my first, somewhat painful, workout on my new Bowflex Max Trainer. I have a bit of a habit of buying exercise equipment, both new and used, and then never using it. But 2018 has brought a new day—and it started tonight during the state of the state when I got my a** kicked on my new machine. (And a huge hat tip to my husband who put it together for me. But I did sew a button on his jacket today so either hell has frozen over or I am a freaking amazing wife.) Like the shirt I got him for Christmas? Seems especially fitting today. I think I’ll make him wear it tomorrow. To her credit, Raimondo did make mention of an urgent problem in our schools that needs fixing and will cost $1 billion. [pullquote position="right"]Our school buildings are literally crumbling[/pullquote] because of decades of disrepair, Band-Aid fixes, and a pitiful culture of caring about kids by kicking the can down the road. So good on the Governor for tackling this huge and costly nightmare that has been desperately waiting for a leader. The condition of our schools, the places where our children are forced to spend their days, is an abomination. Raimondo also highlighted the increase in pre-K options, universal kindergarten, tuition-free community college—all are worthy of celebration, fist bumps, and high-fives. (And on a separate note, one of the highlights of my year was watching students testify in favor of the RI Promise scholarship. In light of our president’s recent comments about Africa and Haiti, reading the testimony of a former Central High School student from the Congo is well worth your time.) Gov. Raimondo did not talk about student outcomes. This was a glaring omission, in my view. Neither did she talk about how, despite a rising high school graduation rate, there is no evidence that kids are learning more or graduating more prepared for their future. The  welding program at Coventry High School that she highlighted is definitely an example of students graduating with a skill that makes them employable in the future. But what about the kids who don’t want to be welders and instead want to be astronauts, architects, math teachers and surgeons? Let’s look for a moment at the most recent Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) results. No test is perfect and tests don’t tell us everything but they are one important measure and there is good reason to sound the alarm. But if nothing else, I really wanted to hear her talk about the dire situation right now facing our Latino children, a population that is growing but for whom the future outlook puts them  50th out of 50 states. This is a crisis. Surely the governor would concede that we can love Rhode Island and still be honest about the brutal truth facing our Latino families and their children. A ranking of 50th is staggering—gasp inducing—and certainly is one defining component of the current state of our state. But somehow there was no mention of any new and bold educational initiatives or reforms for 2018. We heard about what we have done but nothing about what we will do. Thankfully, Central Falls Superintendent Victor Capellan is bolder and forward-looking than our governor at the moment on this issue. He has put out  a call to action:
We are impatient with the alarming headlines. This is a call to action. Those who defend the status quo or ignore this imperative must ask themselves if they would accept these results for their own children. All the actors who play a role in this dreadful scene must take a look at their own actions or, worse, inaction. All of us are complicit. We cannot wait for another report.
So let me shout it from the rooftops:  We must demand the same opportunities for other people’s children that we would demand for our own. Otherwise, we are complicit. [pullquote]In a state as tiny as ours, those being hurt by our inaction and our silence are our friends and neighbors.[/pullquote] They are our kids’ teammates and opponents on the field and on the court. Their futures matter as much as every other child’s future. And 50th out of 50 isn’t acceptable. It’s shameful. It's like an impassioned Sen. Cory Booker  said to the National Security Secretary this week that her “silence and amnesia is complicity.” Well, what about the governor’s silence about the reality facing Latino students in her state during the one and only moment all year where she officially comments on the state of the state? We need her voice on this. Now. Election years should not deter elected officials from doing right by kids. There will be no excuse if urgently needed education initiatives are pushed to the proverbial election-year back burner. That would not be leadership. So please, governor, speak up.
An original version of this post appeared on Good School Hunting as My New BowFlex, The State of the Littlest State, and the Best T-Shirt I’ve Ever Bought.

Erika Sanzi

Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting fellow.

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