Public Education in This Country Is Literally a Matter of Life and Death. Here's How It's Playing Out.

May 31, 2019 12:00:00 AM


Last week, a group of Californians got what Dolly Hunt called their “Martin Luther King moment.”

Here’s what happened.

The California Senate was set to vote on a slate of bills that would put a chokehold on charter schools, killing their growth and autonomy and limiting quality school options for families that need them most. Parents came from everywhere to fight this action—literally drove 10 hours from southern California to Sacramento make their voices heard.

And they did just that. Because as of today, two out of the four bills failed to pass.

Before you start thinking this is just another charter school advocacy piece, hold on and hear me out.

Now, Dolly—who attends an adult charter school in Sacramento called Highlands Community Charter School—was on to something when she spoke about the Martin Luther King moment. Because one of the realest things he ever said was, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Public education in this country is literally a matter of life and death—the good life for those who have unrestricted access to quality schools and the death of the “American dream” for those who don’t.

If you think I’m being dramatic in my analysis, just think about it—most Black and Latinx students live drastically different lives than their White peers in the public education system.

According to this Education Trust report, they’re less likely to attend preschool, have limited access to quality schools and high rigor courses, are disproportionately and unfairly disciplined, and have higher dropout rates than White and Asian students.

In California alone, 80% of Black students enrolled in district schools score below the state standard in math and 68% fail to meet the English language arts requirement.

Now how are these kids supposed to be successful if they can’t read or do math? If they’re being kicked out or dropping out of school, becoming victims of the school-to-prison pipeline? If they’re stuck in high-poverty, high-crime communities without a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of?

These obstacles and the slow death of the American dream stem from the color of their skin. It’s unfair, it’s criminal and grandparents like Helen “Cookie” Gordo are tired of it.

And please know that this California situation is a reflection of the entire country. Legislators have chosen to be silent about the real issues of an inadequate system—one that they’d never enroll their kids in—while trying to destroy institutions that actually address those failures.

But these parents, dynamic school leaders like Margaret Fortune and organizations like La Comadre have chosen to be vocal and fight because they know that our kids’ lives will be lost to this system if they stay quiet. They are a reflection of true democracy. They’ve shown us that we can win.

My point in saying all of this is, we all have Dr. King moments inside of us and now is the time to bring em’ out. This isn’t about charter schools. We know the system is and has always been jacked up for certain kids and assaulting charter schools isn’t going to fix it.

This is about parents being able to choose the best schools without skin color, ZIP codes and politics interfering with or limiting their options. This is about giving all kids access to the same opportunities through providing them with a good education. And finally, this is about restoring democracy and holding politicians accountable for advocating for our best interests.

If I could leave you with some inspiration, here’s my remix to Dr. King’s quote: “Our lives begin to change the day we reclaim our power.” Boom!

Tanesha Peeples

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and advocacy of those that are often ignored. Tanesha wholeheartedly believes that education is the foundation for success. Her grand vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or ZIP code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. And that's what she works towards every day.

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