Sunday, November 8, 2015

Everyday Advocates – Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer

Why Public Education Advocacy is Important to Me:
The way I see it, being a public education advocate means advocating not just for education, but for the Common Good and the health of our democracy as well.

In the current political climate, we’ve become so polarized around parties that we’ve lost sight of the common good. We’ve become so consumer-driven that we look at schools as products to be consumed instead of the social responsibility and service that they are. We’ve allowed the business mentality and narrative to permeate every part of our lives that we as a society look at schools in terms of what we the consumers will receive and what the cost-benefit in dollars is---and not what that cost-benefit analysis turns up in terms of human lives and the health of our society.

What I Have Found Satisfying and What Keeps Me Going:
The most satisfying thing for me is connecting with and learning from so many other concerned people in my own community as well as all across the country. There are thousands of us who are working to raise awareness on the issues and who are forming organizations very similar to our own here in Monroe County. When I make connections with other people from other communities through the speeches I’ve given or things I’ve written, it feels good to know that I’m in good company. The hope is that as we organize and grow, we will become a force for change.

What I Want Parents to Know:
As parents, we have a powerful voice. Educators are often maligned when they speak up (although I hope that won’t stop them!) as “defending the status quo.” Parents have power because we can’t be fired. The wealthy corporate education reformers, charter school operators, political action committees, think tanks, (and the politicians they buy) all consistently speak “for the kids” while attacking our public schools and teachers. I want parents to remember that we need to speak up while supporting our teachers. After all, our teachers’ working conditions are our kids’ learning conditions. We need to remember that it’s not just about our own children, but about all children. We have a responsibility to support great public schools for all children. Where there are problems, we need to work together to fix them.

How Parents Can Get Involved:
Pay attention and get involved in school board races—those are the local policymakers. But don’t forget the importance of good state legislators and the governor! The mandates from the statehouse are directly affecting our kids’ experiences in the classroom. Do you want less emphasis on testing? VOTE. Do you want money for smaller class sizes and certified music, art, P.E. and teacher librarians? VOTE.

We need parents who will join us in our letter writing, phone calling, and testifying at local and state board meetings. We need parents who will help us organize events to call attention to the attack on public education and teachers. We need parents… and others who care about this issue, to help us with the many projects we do to raise awareness and keep politicians’ feet to the fire.

We also need to be volunteering on campaigns. Indiana has a miserable voter turnout record. That means that we need to be getting in front of the voters as much and as best as we can. If we all did a little bit, the world would look a lot different.

Experience with Legislators
I have had a frustrating time with legislators. Early on in my experience with this advocacy work, I was told “You can’t change legislators’ minds, you have to change legislators.”

I think that, by and large, it is true. I have had arguments with legislators who have told me that I am a socialist for promoting public education. He said that it’s one of the Marxist tenets. These are people who promote the idea of individualism when it comes to the poor, but not when it comes to giving a hand-out to the wealthy or corporations, who get the tax cuts. They receive so much money from the organizations promoting the bleeding out of our tax dollars to private religious schools through “vouchers” or to charter schools that are run like businesses and make a healthy profit. We can’t afford a multi-tiered system of education: public schools for ALL kids, private schools who can exclude kids, and charters—a system run rampant with corruption.

I find that legislators are listening to their donors and not their constituents, which is another reason why we all need to get involved in elections. We need the money out of politics.

The purpose of public education is to give kids the skills, knowledge, and experiences they need to be citizens of a democracy. My inspiration is the John Dewey quote:

“What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”


Unknown said...

So much appreciate this advocate. She always connects the dots in a way that all can understand. That's why legislators get so frustrated with her. She makes sense.

Unknown said...

"The purpose of public education is to give kids the skills, knowledge, and experiences they need to be citizens of a democracy." If public education were succeeding at this we might have some foundation for agreement. However, our public education is failing miserably at this! Just look at the statistics and where we stand with the rest of the world. I give you the example of the public schools in the city of Detroit (speaking of corruption).

On the other hand, the records of private schools are (religious or not) are far superior to those of the public schools. Why should our tax dollars be spent on a superior approach to teaching our children.

Having public schools return to teaching the three "R", accurate history, hand writing, etc. and eliminate all of the experiments like "common core" and all those that came before. They have all failed to do what we want. Unless, of course, dumbing down our young people is the goal.

Just my opinion...

Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer said...

Dear Eric,

I spent my earliest years and went to Kindergarten in a beautiful, integrated neighborhood of Detroit. Then, like many other upper-middle class white families, my dad got another job and we moved. White flight combined with the loss of manufacturing has wreaked havoc on my earliest hometown. I have gone back to look at my old neighborhood school and now it is no longer public, very segregated, and desperately poor. Detroit struggled with corruption, I won't deny that, but it is now a city that is without ANY democratic governance, desperately poor and desperately segregated. As for corruption, the corporate education reformers' experiment of taking over their schools has been at the center of horrible scandals--children and the future of that community (that I hold dear) are and will be the victims of this privatization.

I give you this example:

As well as this commentary:

I don't know what your "proof" of our public education system's "failure" is, but I challenge you to factor out poverty from any international comparison (NAEP? What are you using to make this judgement) and then show me the numbers.

While we are comparing, show me the records of "superiority" in private schools as compared to public schools while factoring out poverty.

We have a problem for sure. We have an embarrassing and shameful number of children living in poverty. We know that what those kids need cannot be fulfilled by teachers alone. We know what does work for kids in these desperate situations and we have research to back it. Kids in poverty need schools with wraparound services-- social workers, psychologists, nurses, nutrition= food, counselors, experienced and well-educated teachers, small class sizes, the arts, libraries and librarians, to name several factors that help kids overcome the opportunity gap that poverty creates.

Instead, we get the draining of funding, and an overemphasis on testing.

I agree that eliminating Common Core and other test-driven agendas would help us get back to the depth of experience of teaching and learning. But I also think that we need to be completely attuned to the concern for equity--equal educational opportunity is the strength of our democracy and an unfulfilled promise.