The Education Reform Movie Should Be Starring YOU!

I'm not as frequent a blogger as I ought to be. While there are a multitude of reasons for this (parent of three children, summer heat index of 110 degrees, just plain laziness, or most of my contributions to conversation take place on my facebook page...) every once in a while I read an article about education reform that is an "aha" moment (a "take on me" moment so to speak). Last night while fighting an early onset of insomnia I read John H. Jackson "Lights, Camera, Action: Time to Change the Script and Bring in New Directors in Public Education Reform". Now normally I just post a link to an article such as this on my facebook page and urge all my 547 "friends" to read/comment and I move on to the next piece of interesting discourse about education, perhaps revisiting the post again at a later time to see what conversation has been generated.

Not this time. Jackson's piece urges readers to understand that in order "To produce transformative educational reform, we must roll the closing credits for self-invested "reformers" and have parents, students and grassroots advocates take their rightful positions on the stage." I promise you my close friend Gwen Samuel has said this very thing, in a variety of ways, in her blogs, on her facebook, connected to posts I've written, others have written, and so forth. It isn't as if we parents who are in the trenches of this "education reform war" aren't acutely aware of our role and responsibility...the truth is no one is including us in the dialogue. In the script for the film about ed reform...parents are subscribed the role of "extra." We aren't the stars of the show.

On my facebook post I wrote "This is why I am an advocate. There is no film crew, no photo op, no million dollar donations. Just me, some like minded individuals, our kids, trying to make a difference one day at a time. Today at CAP we filled 69 orders (those are the number of parents, each had multiple children). On Monday, we will help 400 students. for the week, appx 2000 children will travel through our doors (not literally...but their parents will be there). There is no camera crew, or twitter tweet, or blog post that can capture those moments where a family cries tears of thankfulness because a handful of volunteers took the time to fill a bag with a pair of pants, a polo, some socks and underwear, and a belt, so that child can go to school, without worrying about the right clothes. I know that the big E in education needs to be addressed in a very serious way, and with an extreme sense of urgency. That in our district we are about to launch Unbridled Kentucky, so our children are college/career ready after being educated in the commonwealth. We, as parents, as families, as community members, must be engaged in this process. We must not presume that someone else is going to "fix" it. We must do the fixing, we must bring our talents and tools to the table and say, "what do you need me to do to help make ALL children successful?" I am tired of being an extra in someone else's movie about OUR children's education. I am now writing the script and going to be the director. Independent with ample support from my Mom Congress and PTA friends, but determined to make a difference...together I know we can."

What I wrote eight hours ago still rings true. When I speak at a workshop about parent engagement, I don't get paid a hefty stipend and my travel costs are not covered. There isn't a news crew following my every step wondering if I walk the talk. There isn't a cover of a national magazine. And even though I've done some (what I think) are pretty amazing things to engage in a dialogue about education, quite often those moments go completely unnoticed by the community in which I live because there is no press coverage. And don't misunderstand, I'm not looking for 15 minutes of fame, I am just looking to be invited to participate in the movie as more than "extra number 3." Because here is a truth about us extras...we have to be on the set the same time as the stars, we have to know the script, the blocking, where the cameras are, and we have to look engaged and active in the scene, even if we are in the background. We are actually working right along with the celebrities...you just haven't noticed because we haven't said anything about it.

One of Jackson's major points is that "Parents, students and advocates should begin to craft policy proposals that reflect their community's education reform values and principles - and rather than just discussing them, hold local school board officials, city council members and legislators accountable for presenting these proposals for a vote. This must be coupled by a groundswell of community organizing to elevate all voices until these proposals become the culture and law of the land. " I couldn't agree more. But I would also say that part of our role is to get in and get it done. Because all the stars of ed reform, all those who spend their time debating the issues either in front of a camera, on twitter, in the pages of the Washington Post or Huffington Post, in posts on facebook, are not showing up to help us on the first day of school. They are not going to be at your PTA program helping you engage parents in education. They will not be at the Clothing Assistance Program putting a pair of pants in a bag so a child and family can take that off their worry list for the first day of school. That role is left up to you and me. And there is no red carpet waiting to take us into the building.

Furthermore, while I always encourage parents to be stronger advocates for their children, to attend school board meetings, to run for SBDM councils, for the PTA board, to call elected officials, to respond to action alerts, to be engaged in that way...I also know that being engaged is about making sure your child has a good meal at home, has school supplies, has the proper clothing for school, has a positive attitude about education, loves to learn, and that they feel emotionally supported every step of the way. So while policy is important, more important is making sure you have all the paperwork filled out for the first day of school and that you take the time to meet your child's teacher or visit the school. That you show your child who the star of the movie is: not you, not me, not the ed reformers, but ALL CHILDREN. It is their lives we are debating, discoursing, disecting. Let's ask them what the script should look like...

So while all the celebs of ed reform, or the writer's of articles on the Huff Po. are urging us, the parent, to "take action" to craft that policy, to attend that march, to get involved, I would like to point out that I am involved. My involvement may not look like yours, may not be part of a historic newsworthy moment, but my involvement made a definite difference in a families life. Can they say the same?

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