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They Would Do Anything For Their Children

Forbes | March 2, 2020
By Jeanne Allen

Parents v Candidates in Election 2020

With American education in a state of mediocrity or worse in many of the nation’s most volatile communities, the absence of a substantive debate on education issues on the national political stage is shocking. Sure, promises of universal healthcare and free college are more immediately gratifying than thinking about the numbers on youth literacy or career-readiness. But does anyone out there really believe that the issue with the greatest impact on our future economic and national security should continue to be ignored? 

In fact, many are livid about the state of education in the nation, and they know that the whole system is not only out of date but far too inadequate to ensure the successful education and training of our youth. While the candidates from the debate stage to the campaign trail pontificate about equalizing opportunity, real opportunity can only be realized when everyone in America, no matter their zip code, has equal access to participate in the future.  

That future— which immigrants have sought for more than a century, is unique to America — one founded on the free pursuit of happiness, an economic system that embraces individual liberty and where government is limited by design. “If men were angels,” said Madison in Federalist 51, “no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. … you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. …”  

This is the essence of American government: that it be controlled by the people, exist for the people, and be of the people. Far from a nation that seeks to predetermine fortunes, distributing and redistributing wealth, this nation’s government exists to ensure that every person has access to certain rights and liberties— freedoms that allow them to pursue their own goals and dreams.

For families, that freedom is nowhere more important than education. It’s why there is a bold, powerful chorus of parents boldly calling on government leaders and hopefuls to give them the freedom to control their children’s education. The African-American led Powerful Parent Network (PPN) wants a reprieve from misguided policies and ill-informed political leaders which have caused their schools failures. Their demand is simple: ‘let us exercise our uniquely American freedoms, and choose ourselves for our children an education that we decide best meets their individual needs. Don’t restrict us to sending our kids somewhere someone else determined.’ 

This request offends the guardians of a bureaucracy worth over $700 billion from which teachers unions derive more than $700 million annually protecting the system they lobby to preserve.

“… We are NOT anti-union,” say the PPN, “but they have held power over the education agenda in our country for decades and their power has, unfortunately, not resulted in positive change for our children. We believe it’s time for new power in education …” 

Bernie Sanders with Powerful Parent Network's Sarah Carpenter POWERFUL PARENT NETWORK (@WEAREPPN)

Bernie Sanders’ response to the parents was to suggest they join the PTA, as if that would turn around 10-18% reading and math proficiency in Tennessee, Wisconsin or South Carolina, to name just a few. Yet only when states and communities allow parents to make decisions for their own children are they able to close critical achievement gaps and help all students succeed.

The Democratic candidates have all made critical choices on how and where to educate their children, even as they oppose such choices for others to vie for teachers union endorsements. As civil rights activist Howard Fuller argued as he led families to the debates, “We are [here] to bear witness to the right of Black and Brown families to have self determination when it comes to choosing charter schools for their children’s education; the right to choose that @ewarren exercised for her child.”

“We can decide what's best for our children.”

Thanks to voices like these, CBS News anchor Bill Whitaker finally asked during the Charleston debate about an issue long overdue its time on stage— charter schools. The question was to Mayor Bloomberg, who has supported charter schools. At last summer’s NAACP National Convention he boasted, “Some of the top-performing schools in New York City are public charter schools. …the results can be incredibly impressive among millions of kids, giving them the opportunity to succeed in life and pursue their dreams. And that model can work nationally.” Across Bloomberg’s 12-year mayoral administration, the city’s charter community grew from 18 schools and 4,442 students to more than 180 schools serving 71,422 kids.

Yet in his response to the question, Bloomberg softened his position, only sheepishly acknowledging charters’ success, adding, “I'm not sure they're appropriate every place.”  

Imagine if any candidate had been asked about gun control, climate restrictions or healthcare and answered, “Here’s a solution; it’s good for some people.” It wouldn’t happen.

As candidates contort themselves catering to an anti-education reform constituency, advocates of educational equity and justice will continue to rally harder and stronger. These parents will never support a President who does not respect their basic civil right to educate their children as they see fit, and who turns their back on young Americans whose lives could be dramatically improved by a school different from the one their address assigns. One parent who rallied just about summed it up; “I would do anything for my children.”

We are counting on just that. This nation’s future depends on it.

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