In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
We become so secure in our bubbles, that we start only accepting information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions.
President Obama’s Farewell Address, January 10, 2017
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I look to education. For many of us, it is our democratic public schools that present the best opportunity to bring children together, in a world where people are torn apart. I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would agree.
Our schools should be united as one strong democratic system. They should be owned by the people in this great nation, committed to teaching, not just how to tolerate our differences, but how to enjoy one another and lift each other up.
Public schools should give all of us hope.
Our democratic public school system should be a shining beacon to the rest of the world.
Now that our first African-American President is leaving, I have been thinking about President Obama’s words and his legacy when it comes to public schools.
I voted for President Obama. I like his personality, some of his policies, and his beautiful family. Their presence in the White House will be missed. I appreciate their service and wish them nothing but the best.
But I would lie if I said I was happy with the President’s education policies.
In his farewell address he said, “We become so secure in our bubbles, that we start only accepting information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions.”
I ironically find those words to be exactly the case with President Obama, billionaires who have sunk their teeth into school reform, and politicians that pay passing, if any, attention to pressing problems facing public schools today!
They exist in their own elite bubble.
They pass policies based on their own insight even when they are wrong. It is as if they don’t realize the existence of the many teachers, parents, students, and caring activists who fight against the often draconian corporate education reforms!
We are all outside their bubble of ideologies which drastically affect the lives of our children—not theirs.
Here are some of the education reforms that we got in education under President Obama.
- Race to the Top was a $4.35 billion bill to encourage innovation. But it really pushed for charter schools—most segregated. It broke up real public schools based on high-stakes testing in favor of those charters. Many charters are run by nonprofit or for-profit companies. Even the title is troubling—as if children and teachers need to compete to get resources and support.
- Common Core State Standards were highly controversial and never proven. The standards diminished the worth of a teacher and were developmentally inappropriate—especially in the early years. The assessment surrounding these standards will lead to embedded, ongoing tests online. Privacy concerns abound.
- Technology reigns under President Obama. As the President pushes a high tech, all-tech agenda on our public schools, as we watch cyber charters created in some of the most impoverished parts of the country, the first family limits their daughters’ use of technology. Their private school does as well.
- The arts were permitted to flourish in some schools, not for the joy of art, but to find out if art increases test scores and student attendance! There seems to be little understanding in that bubble, how the arts were stolen from our public schools by the very reforms currently promoted! How many children will miss out on the music that will inspire them to become the next Beyoncé, Marvin Gaye, and other musicians? Or how many children will never evolve into artists who do pictures, or ponder the meaning behind artwork like Hope by George Frederic Watts. All children deserve art programs in their public schools.
- Special education was once again demonized. Pushing all students to take grade-level tests means there is no safety net for those who need something different. Parents disappointed in services in public schools will seek vouchers to private schools.
- Preschool and early education were highlighted in the Obama administration, but Kindergarten is now the new first grade. Young children are pushed to learn harder than ever before—some on digital devices. And nowhere did we see a national initiative to bring back recess to schools that eliminated it due to high-stakes testing.
- The Every Student Succeeds Act was signed under President Obama’s watch. Unlike the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which was first signed by President Johnson, ESSA does little for civil rights. It is controversial and there is fear that by handing over power to the States the Act will end public schooling as we know it. It diminishes the role of the professional teacher, leaves in place Common Core, and heavily promotes the use of technology.
- Teacher professionalism is diminished through alternate paths to teaching and pay-for-performance plans which are relatively unaccountable to parents and taxpayers.
They seem to see only what they want to see in their bubble.
Throughout this terrible primary season, when did any candidate from either party adequately and sincerely address K-12 education by delving into the serious issues of which there are many?
Anyone with questions or concerns about education was invisible to those inside the bubble.
The media fit in the bubble too, consistently skirting over any kind of real debate surrounding K-12 education.
And now we will get a President Trump and a Betsy DeVos who will, if permitted, end our democratic public school system for good. The disconnect with the American people still outside the bubble is surreal.
Last night on 60 Minutes, the President said his greatest fear leaving office is the loss of democracy.
Fear of losing democracy? There is no greater democratic system that represents the country than the free institution that serves children, every single one, no matter their race, culture, background or disability!
I hope President Obama will rethink his commitment to children and all Americans and revisit the hope that can be found in our public school system.
The time is always right to do what is right.
Martin Luther King, Jr.