This Is a Biased Agenda: My Educational Baptism
September 17, 2015: a day that I mark in infamy.
The day started out beautifully. It was the day that I was to attend my first Congressional Black Caucus conference ever. Breakfast was great. Camaraderie with the other parents in our delegation was refreshing, and the bus ride over to the convention center was smooth and full of sights. After registration I did an interview with educationpost.org that covered my plight as an involved Andrew Wilson Elementary Charter parent and asked for my insight on parental involvement in. I was on a high, feeling good, and awaiting the start of my first panel.
It was titled “Education as a Civil Right: Federal Policy Solutions to Advance Access from Cradle to Career.” I did think the title was unnecessary and overboard, but I just figured it was a politics thing–always too much, but yes I was excited.
I was entering a room of majority black folk and we are going to talk about, discuss and find solutions for problems that are haunting education in the black community. Besides, we all have the same purpose in mind, right? The betterment of all of our kids, right? Low-income kids right? Because they deserve a great education, right?
The room was packed, standing room only, as we made our way to the back corner. As a panelist spoke I could clearly see one of the other parents in my group—Tenicka Boyd, organizing director for StudentsFirst NY—getting disgusted and openly displaying the emotions on her face.
There was speaker after speaker talking about their agendas and giving their long-winded soliloquies about education.
There was a latecomer to the panel, and I asked Tenicka who the lady was. As she attempted to explain, an audience member scolded us. I don’t remember what she said, but it was harsh, forceful and sounded like the other end of Charlie Brown’s phone: “Wah wah wah. Wah wah wah wah. Wah.”
Tenicka was eventually able to explain that the latecomer was Your Excellency Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers—a national teachers’ union. I bestow upon her that title because the way she was cheered and welcomed was fit for a queen, and everything out of her mouth seemed to be spoken gold to a vast majority of the attendees.
Speaker after speaker continued; Tenicka couldn’t take it anymore and left out. I was now standing next to RiShawn Biddle of Dropout Nation, and–unbeknownst to me at the time–he was giving me the game the entire time I was next to him. He spoke of the money that the people on the panel use to sway and influence politicians (you know, the people we elect to represent our interest); he spoke of the six-figure salary that Your Excellency makes and the blatant disrespect that she gives to the parents she is supposed to be improving schools for. He was also trying to explain to me how this whole panel and event was put together with a biased agenda as the ultimate goal.
I was reaching my epiphany. This room was full of AFT union teachers, and it was clear they were Your Excellency’s henchmen. This room, the time allotted, the panelists, and the henchmen were all bought, paid for, and flown in to be in favor of, promote, and support the union’s agenda.
At this point, I am in shock—in shock of the blatant arrogance that filled the air, in shock of the lack of diversity on the panel in the form of capable parents and successful school leaders, in shock of not respecting anyone else’s opinion but your own. And most of all, shocked that anyone would have the audacity to talk about an impoverished demographic and not even invite them to the table. In other words: I can speak for you; you trust me, don’t you? I’m on your side.
After the long-winded introductions, fervent clapping, and agenda promoting, it was time to behold: Your Excellency started to speak. The room clapped, cheered her on, called her “Sista” and commenced to second many of her motions. Then, in her culmination, Your Excellency proceeded to tell us what “success” is as it relates to education.
Your majesty said success is not habitually evaluating teachers; she claimed success is a strong preschool foundation; she said success is ensuring that a child gets an education. She said several other things in her rant, most of which didn’t get much of a response, until she said her last thing: success isn’t education reform. That statement was met by thunderous clapping, nodding in agreement and cheers from occupants of the room.
By this time, I am fully aware of what is transpiring. I am appalled by the shuckin’ and jivin’ by one of the black communities most respected and probably accessible professions: TEACHERS.
But out of optimism comes a pathway, and Your Excellency hath opened one up. Now I had the ball, and I was intending on moving it through that hole and down that pathway.
So when it was time for me to speak during the Q&A, I proceeded to let Your Excellency know what success is to me.
Success is a mentor to a CEO/School Leader—a mentor who has traversed both charter and traditional schools.
Success is a black CEO/School Leader of impoverished students who I as a parent and we as a community will hold accountable and responsible for how the children are educated.
Success is a large group of black male educators, and they are instructing in the class and being Master teachers and not just relegated to be overseers or disciplinarians.
Success is a concentrated and deliberate effort to involve the community and engage parents.
This argument is not “cookie cutter.” If you are an educator who does not have our kids best interest at heart and who does not undeniably support my power of personal choice of a school, then you are disrespecting me and my child. This decision works for me. Period. Do you support my choice? Yes or No?
This statement and question struck a nerve with Ms. Weingarten. I call her that because now she knows who I am, and I know who she is. She began to spew out words and phrases, in her attempt to bestow upon me an EDUCATIONAL BAPTISM, which basically told me that I respect your choice as long as it’s a byproduct or residual of my agenda. Yes, I’m allowed the leftovers.
I then left the mic and was greeted by looks that could kill and snickering from the henchmen. Who was I and how dare I address Your Excellency in that tone?
That ride was treacherous, but growth comes by being in the trenches. And I was in there headfirst my first time around. I realized what this trip was intended to do: the ignition of a spark.
I became more grateful for the opportunity and learning experience. I saw a bigger and clearer picture of the road and work that lie ahead. I have been rewarded with allies who have no problem disseminating the knowledge that they possess to make me better at the attainment of a common goal.
That goal is CHOICE, ACCOUNTABILITY and the best education that fits our children, each and every one of them.
I go back home with a mind determined and set to reach the goals that will bring those things into fruition for Our Kids.