“You have a situation where both bills provide young people in the state of Louisiana with a greater opportunity (to succeed).”
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Asiyah’s wide-ranging experiences in education and activism can help us broaden our own views about school choice and activism. Her story demonstrates that the way we think about education and activism is often much too narrow. She helps us believe that finding the best school for our children is not limited to what’s right in front of us, and that being an activist can also be a matter of choice.
In education, we often speak about private, charter, and traditional public schools, but for Asiyah, there was another option, the one her parents took in providing her education: homeschool. Asiyah divided her time between homeschool with her parents as well as a madrasa, a formal Islamic school. She attended a number of madrasas in New Orleans, which was a shared homeschool experience with a small group of students. Later, she received her high school equivalency diploma. Reflecting on the difference between her homeschool experience and that of her younger siblings, who attended public school, Asiyah stated, “Listening to them talk about their experiences that I never had, dances and things like that, I knew my school experience was not typical.”
But Asiyah didn’t think much about education systems until she had her own child. When her son was ready to attend school, Asiyah and her husband at the time had a discussion. They didn’t have much confidence in the New Orleans school system. He had attended Catholic schools his whole life and felt strongly that his children should be given the same opportunity. Asiyah had no objections, so they enrolled their son in a Catholic school. But the education expenses didn’t feel reasonable, so they decided to move. Asiyah, who is a social worker in the mental health field, looked for a job on the Northshore and was able to find one in Slidell.
“More resources amounts to more choices,” Asiyah acknowledged. “There is the question of what happens to the people and the children whose resources and choices are limited.”
Once in Slidell, Asiyah visited the public school and noticed there wasn’t much difference in class sizes between the private and public schools. She began to rethink the decision to continue to send her son to private school, and eventually she enrolled her son in the public school. Later, she enrolled her other children, a son and daughter, in public school as well. She was an involved parent. “I had a track for them from the time they were enrolled all the way through high school. I wasn’t going to leave their education up to the school system. I’d plan their classes each year.” At one point, she thought about moving back to New Orleans, but after talking with friends about “the lottery system,” she decided she didn’t want to face that kind of uncertainty about her children’s education.
Asiyah is also involved in the community. Though her family still lives in Slidell, she is still active in New Orleans. In the last couple of years, she has attended a number of demonstrations and marches for various social justice issues. “I care about the fair treatment of people, especially issues of police brutality and how people of color are treated by the criminal justice system, by police… I have two sons. One that drives.”
Reflecting on when she first became involved in social justice issues, she thinks about the legacy of her parents, who participated in different socially minded groups, but her activism developed over time. The first actions she remembers taking part in were sit-ins at Louisiana State University after incidents of racism occurred on campus. When asked about her role in activist spaces, she hesitates.
“Sometimes I don’t feel like I fit into activist spaces. I’m not always sure of my role. I hope that my presence will affect something, that maybe something will come from it, and from showing support. But I just think of myself as someone who wants to be involved, a concerned citizen. When I see something that needs addressed, I try to take the initiative to speak up, and to be involved in activities that might affect some outcome. I don’t feel like I can’t just sit back, that makes me feel antsy. It doesn’t quite sit right.”
Asiyah’s courage is subtle, but powerful. It’s an important narrative for when we lose sight of our own power to choose in the face of relentless and unforgiving systems of social conditioning and oppression. Though we must also acknowledge, as Asiyah did, that she has had enough resources and support to make those choices. When we see this success, we are encouraged to give others the resources and support they need to also have options. Just as important, we have to have a reason to believe it is possible to find freedom within these systems. Asiyah gives us that reason to believe by broadening our view of choice and redefining what it means to be a concerned parent and citizen. It’s not a matter of heroism, and for each parent and person it will look different. Yet, Asiyah helps us see that it is also as simple as being involved.
“Under current state law, only law enforcement officers are allowed to carry guns on school campuses. House Bill 271 would have allowed teachers and administrators at elementary and secondary schools if their school boards or another governing board authorized it.”
Fuller: To Truly Honor Dr. King, Teachers Must Fight for Justice Beyond the Schoolhouse Doors for Their Poor Black Students
This article was first published at www.the74million.org
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968. Since that time, much has been written and said about this “drum major for justice.” In my view, there seems to be a conscious or unconscious process at work to create a sanitized notion of this great man.
We hear a lot about the power of his intellect, the man who spoke of his powerful dream, the man who believed in nonviolence, the man who preached about love. He was indeed intellectually gifted, but he was not abstract. He was a dreamer, but primarily, he was a doer. King was indeed nonviolent, but he was not passive. He preached about love, but he connected it to justice. He stated, “The Negro needs not only love, but also justice. Love that does not satisfy justice is no love at all. It is merely a sentimental affection, little more than what one would have for a pet.”
King did not just discuss the importance of justice; he fought for it. He was a man who could have lived a comfortable life. But, instead, he chose to raise his voice, to use his intellect, and ultimately give his life fighting for justice for black people, indeed for poor people of all colors.
If we are going to use the 50th anniversary of his assassination to recognize him or, indeed, to honor him, the only way to do that is to continue his fight for justice for the poor and the powerless in our society. Education is the area I have chosen for my work. In doing so, I recognize that the needs of all children are important, but I am concentrating on how to help our poorest children, and as a black man I have a particular focus on poor black children. Like King, I believe these children, in particular, deserve justice.
It is my firm belief that black children who live in communities where their lives do not matter to the police, politicians, or members of their own community will fall victim to traumatic circumstances that will have a tremendous impact on them for the rest of their lives. Children who are hungry cannot learn. Children who are abused and neglected will find it more difficult to concentrate in school. Children who have witnessed violence in their families and in their communities will not always be able to control their hurt and their rage.
As educators, to truly bring justice to the lives of these children, we must go beyond just fighting for parent choice, for charter schools, for new school designs, or innovative traditional school districts, new teaching and learning practices, etc.
We must recognize that true education reform does not begin or end at the schoolhouse door.
If we are truly going to honor King, we must be willing to fight for laws, policies, and practices that impact our students’ lives every day. We must not back away from: supporting the importance of mental health services for our students who need that help; fighting for living-wage jobs for the families of our students; advocating for decent housing; resisting efforts to curtail people’s right to vote; speaking out against racially motivated violence against black people by the police; standing with them as they fight for changes in the gun laws in this country.
If we are going to honor King, we have to do better at putting ourselves into the shoes of the students entering our classrooms. We need to respect these students and provide a caring, nurturing environment that will help them see the benefits of education and encourage them to want to learn. “No excuses” cannot and must not mean no empathy. If a student slept in a car the night before, that is not an excuse; that is a reality, a reality that will impact his or her ability to learn. Yes, we must teach them, but, if we are to infuse anything into our lives from King, we must approach all children with love and understanding to help them overcome the challenges of living in a world that often provides no love and no caring about their well-being.
We are all in this fight because we know our kids deserve better. We know that education is the only real lever of change they have to create a better life for themselves and, ultimately, their children. Trying to bring even a measure of justice to these children requires us to not just quote King’s words, but to rededicate ourselves to picking up the torch he passed on in the continuing struggle for social justice.
Dr. Howard Fuller is a distinguished professor of education at Marquette University.
By Cheryl Kirk
It has been fifty years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I believe there are so many changes of which he would have been proud. It is true there has been much advancement for people of color in the fifty years that have passed, but we still have work to do.
One area I believe he would be disappointed about is the lack of access to quality education for poor and minority students. In the fifty years since his assassination, there are still a vast majority of poor and minority children across the country, including my home state of Indiana, who have not been given a fair chance.
In his speech to Barratt Junior High students in Philadelphia six months before his assassination, he asked, “What is your life’s blueprint?”
Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you’re nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance. Secondly, in your life’s blueprint, you must have as a basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would want parents, teachers, the legislature, and community leaders to work together to create a blueprint that builds success for all children. He would want to ensure that all children felt their success was important, no matter their circumstance or zip code.
Indiana is leading the nation in creating a blueprint for success for our most vulnerable children. Children like mine who were able to bypass failing schools because of school choice. As my twins are preparing to graduate high school in a few months and head to college with several academic scholarship offers and my fifth grader is preparing to compete with his robotics team at a world competition, I am thankful for the opportunity my children now have because of school choice. These are opportunities I believe they would not have been afforded if not for school choice.
Although we still have a long way to go to ensure all children have access to quality education options, I believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be happy with the progress Indiana is making in its blueprint to provide quality education to all children. As a community, we must have the determination for our children to achieve excellence, so that they always feel they have worth and they count.
It’s Women’s History Month and I have been teaching my class about the accomplishments of women throughout history. While pretty much all of my students are receptive to the idea of spending extra time learning about women, some of them do seem a bit confused as to why we are doing it. Some even going as far to ask, “Why is there no Men’s History Month?”
This question is actually pretty common. It has been asked rhetorically online by so-called “men’s rights” activists in chat rooms and internet forums.
This question has a simple answer; there is no need. Women’s History Month is a response to a very real need to give students a more accurate representation of women throughout history. There is no such need for men’s history because the accomplishments of men are well chronicled, well respected, and well taught. You don’t need a special month to remind you to do something you already do.
When you make a grocery list, you typically list the supplies you don’t have or are almost gone, not supplies you have in surplus. In my house, the constant need is vegetables. We are always running low on vegetables. We never have enough, and in spite of its perpetual spot on our grocery list, we never seem to buy enough. Because of this, the app I use to create our grocery list has a standing reminder to buy vegetables. We don’t need any such reminders to buy Oreos because we buy enough of those already. Oreos are all over our pantry. We don’t need a reminder to shop for sweets.
Here are some facts that you should encourage people to think about when they ask you, “Why is there no Men’s History Month?”
1. Women’s history is neglected in traditional classroom studies.
The history we are accustomed to is a combination of oral and written history recorded mostly by men. There are a variety of reasons for this, but it is mostly due to the fact women have not been treated as equals for the bulk of human history. Thus, it’s only natural the achievements and contributions of women would be given a back seat as well.
In the modern age, women are accepted as equals, therefore, we should treat their history with greater importance too. This sometimes requires special effort given the fact most classrooms and teachers simply default to the male-centered history education we have been using for so many years.
2. Teaching women’s history doesn’t detract from men in any way.
Many people often view focusing on a particular group in the form of a special holiday or month as unfair to the others; however, this is really not the case. Women’s History Month exists to highlight and promote the accomplishments and contributions of females because they are often overlooked.
Are males “often overlooked” in history class? No. In fact, if you ask the vast majority of Americans to name an important historical figure they will give you the name of a man in spite of the fact that women are and have been approximately 50% of the population.
Does teaching women’s history preclude teaching men’s history? No. Learning is not a zero-sum game. Just because a teacher devotes a little more time to Abigail Adams doesn’t mean students can’t still learn about Samuel Adams or John Adams.
3. Representation Matters.
One of the projects I do in my history class is have students pretend to be someone from a previous time period. One observation I noticed is my male students would always pretend to be kings, inventors, politicians, or generals; my female students would always pretend to be queens, wives, homemakers, or maids. At first, I thought this was simply a function of my boys being more interested in pretending or lack of imagination by the girls. However, one day, I simply asked one of my girl students. “Why do you always choose to be a something like a maid every time we do this activity?” She responded, “Well what else did women even do back then?” That’s when I realized my own teaching limited the scope of women’s accomplishments and abilities in the eyes of my students.
We know that seeing women in expanded roles has a huge impact on the perception of women in society. It’s important for school-age girls to know women contributed more to society than simply catering to their husbands.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need Women’s History Month, but we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in one where women have been oppressed and relegated to the back. Because of this, we need to make extra sure we are doing right by them today.