Why I’m In Education Reform

Below is the text of a speech I gave last week to celebrate the 2011 Bay Area Graduate Fellowship cohort Education Pioneers. I was a keynote, representing my cohort, along with Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento (who is engaged to Michelle Rhee – who knew??).

I never thought be working in educational reform, even though come from long line of teachers.

My mother always said: “LaToya, you don’t really like kids.” And that was true. My mom had a family day care – a day care in our house – for most of my life, and I came to resent those kids and their invasion of our space, their monopoly on my mother’s time, and the fact that I was forced to take care of them. I always knew I wanted my own children, but other people’s kids? Naw, son. That wasn’t me.

But this changed when I became a mother 5 years ago to my son, Big A, and again 4 years ago to my daughter Little A. Suddenly I saw my kids in every kid. I felt the same love toward each kid that I felt toward my own kids. I couldn’t explain it, but somehow I understood their vulnerability. I understood why they needed someone to take care of them. I understood why my mother had dedicated her life to other people’s children.

Early on in motherhood, I recognized the differences between my childhood and my children’s childhood:

  • My public elementary school was 99% black vs. my children attend a (very expensive) private preschool where they are the only black kids
  • We didn’t have a car when I was a young kid, so we walked everywhere vs. my kids complaining about walking a few blocks
  • We ate a lot of frozen foods, French fries, and fish sticks vs. my kids eat 75% organic from WholeFoods
  • I’d never been on an airplane until I was 17, and that was to Florida vs. I can’t keep track of the number of times my kids have taken cross country airplane trips

As a parent, I realized early on that my children have advantages solely due to luck of being born in the position of having two college-educated parents, living on a university campus. Unearned advantages. Advantages that have nothing to do with anything they did. Advantages that look like “merit” but actually make false the dominant ideology of the America that anyone can be anything because kids come to school with vastly different backgrounds and experiences, some of whom are much better prepared to fit into the culture of schools.

Yet my children still face challenges. Their black skin means that upon walking into the school’s doors stereotypes are attached to their little bodies. They are unlikely to see teachers or principals or superintendents or governmental officials that look like them, unlikely to see educational reformers with black and brown skins like theirs. They are more likely to end up in special education, despite my PhD education or almost-lawyer status. My son is more likely to end up in prison than in college.

So I work in education reform for them, and for all children who look like them. Despite the general lack of racial diversity that I’ve seen this past summer from the Bay Area’s educational reform leadership, I’m hopeful that educational reformers will begin to address the same issues that we know exists in schools within the very organizations that purport to be harbingers of change.

One thing I am sure of is that my cohort is ahead of the ball. From the midst of these 40 some odd people I’ve met teachers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and policy makers who are also working for my children and children who look like them, and I’m energized and full of hope due to their very presence. I’ve been impressed by their willingness to tackle difficult questions, like the lack of proportionate racial representation in educational leadership, even when it comes from someone as assertive as myself. So while I was honored that they asked me to represent them this evening, I’d really like to ask them to now join me up here.

I encourage everyone in the audience to take a look at these faces. The network created by Ed Pioneers is awash with people like this, people who are eager to work to erase the system of racism and oppression that exist in schools, people who are eager to erase the opportunity gaps, people who are eager to talk about race, class, racism, white privilege, and power, no matter how hard those conversations may be. It’s up to all of us now to make our organizations, our workplaces, and our schools safe places for those conversations to happen.

I’ll be continuing to fight the good fight here in the Bay Area as I finish my degrees and raise my children, hopefully continuing to work with the special education department in SFUSD and support the work that Education Pioneers is doing. I’m truly inspired by my cohort and the Ed Pioneers network that one day equality in education will be a reality for all children.

One thought on “Why I’m In Education Reform

  1. It has taken me awhile to even comment on this post. I get your reasoning for being involved in education reform. I can identify with the gap in experiences my children will have versus my own. However, what I cannot quite understand is how I as a homeschooler is sooo wrong to homeschool, but you are not wrong to have your child in – to use your words- “a (very expensive) private preschool where they are the only black kids”. I’m trying to see how your looking out for the welfare of your child by sending him to the best academic situation you could afford is any different than me personally giving my children the best education I can afford????
    Wasn’t it you that said on Oct.2010:
    “As citizens, our children deserve to receive an equal education in public schools, and its our job to fight for that. Leaving public schools, whether in the form of charter schools, or private schools, or homeschooling, is in my opinion, a dereliction of the duty we have as responsible citizens to fight for equality in education. No one wants to use their children as guinea pigs; I understand that. But leaving the education system all together I think is the greatest form of giving up that I can imagine. It’s all about – “all I care about it MY kid – forget about the rest of y’all.” I abhor that attitude, and homeschooling really comes across that way to me.”

    Explain please.


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