When you wonder what you can do to stop a head long rush to school privatization that will tear apart our communities, read this parent and educator’s call for advocacy. It is a reminder that we are not helpless; we are in control if we decide to be.
I live and breathe public schools: Help me fight for education
By Laura Dinehart
Guest columnist ORLANDO SENTINEL A-13 2-24-17
When millions of Americans stood up in opposition to a person who will lead our nation’s education system — citing lack of experience and that person’s long-standing efforts to dismantle public education — we spoke with one voice. We fought for public education and stood for for our children and our communities. Yet 50 senators voted in a way that made so many people believe that no one was listening.
Don’t feel helpless. The fight for our children and the future of education does not reside in Washington. It resides with the educators, school administrators, parents, students, local leaders and our communities that together, serve as advocates, champions and protectors of education in this country. As someone who lives, breathes and is a product of public education, here’s how I think we continue to fight for education.
I am a parent of three children enrolled in public schools, and I am an alumnus of the same public school system my children attend. I am an alumnus of a large public university where I am a faculty member and administrator. I work with hard-working faculty that prepare some of the most talented and diverse educators in the United States.
Unfortunately, what we’re seeing at the federal level today is the culmination of an “education reform” movement that has moved money out of public education and demonized teachers. Across the state and throughout Central Florida, college students are pursuing education degrees at significantly lower rates. And despite evidence that the reform movement is failing students and teachers, Florida’s charter system has been identified as a model for federal policy.
Yet, I am inspired and empowered by my fellow educators, parents and citizens who have chosen to fight for a basic tenet of education. Education is a right, not a privilege. Over the last few weeks, citizens across the country have advocated and acted together to support brilliant and conscientious students – ones who succeed despite circumstances that would typically deem them ineligible. They called legislators — when the lines weren’t busy — to remind them that the education of all students, including those with disabilities, is law. They wrote to remind their legislators that we expect them to support laws designed to keep students on college campuses safe from sexual assault. Now, they’re standing up for LGBTQ students’ rights in schools.
In Orlando, schools staged protests, teachers wore black, and parents traveled with them to the state capital to speak for education. Central Florida, home to the 11th-largest school district in the nation and one of the largest universities in the country, is positioned to serve as a model for the state and beyond.
So what now? How do we — educators, parents, citizens, and students — ensure public education remains a pillar of our democracy?
I ask that everyone keep up the commitment to listen and pay attention to what’s being reported in education, not just at the federal level, but locally and especially at the state. Know your Central Florida legislators and those who represent you at the state and federal levels. Demand that they listen to the constituents who have come out to support public education. Call, write, and protest if you see educational rights dismantled. Visit local schools in the greater Orlando community — and not just the ones your kids attend. Listen to the voices of school principals, teachers, families, and community leaders. Listen to the voices of students! Support their efforts and ensure they are protected from those who aim to profit from education.
Students, stand up! Legislators think you are asleep at your latest electronic device. You don’t vote, they say. Show them you care and tell them what you expect from them. Even if you’re still too young to vote — speak your mind. Your voice matters.
Educators, join your unions. Fight for what you believe in. Let your voice and expertise drive what we know is best for our communities. We have allowed various stakeholders to make decisions that fail to support what you work to achieve every day. You have a movement behind you. Capitalize on the groundswell of support. Change must come and it must come from you. We are with you.
Laura Dinehart is executive director of the School of Education and Human Development and an associate professor of early childhood education at Florida International University.
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