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Gwen Samuel: If You Are Silent About My Oppression, You are My Oppressor

By Gwen Samuel

While many were celebrating the 4th of July with hamburgers, hotdogs, fireworks and good ole fashioned apple pie, I was rereading Frederick Douglass’ speech of July 5, 1852,  “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” and applying it to the state of education for Black, brown and poor children in America.

You might ask why I wasn’t I out celebrating the 4th of July. And all I can say is it’s because the status quo protectors and oppressors #StayWoke too. They don’t take a day off.

The oppressors are the ones who make a living off the backs of the oppressed. They see price tags on the lives of our Black, brown and poor children and we all know they will do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to “keep” failing schools open for business.

Every day parents, mostly of color and the poor, have to face the reality that their own children are trapped in schools that cannot and in many cases will not equitably educate them.

Let us be very clear. The status quo folk plan daily – even on holidays – to deny our poor children of color equitable access to safe and quality schools.

The status quo folk plan daily  – even on holidays– to deny parents their right to choose the best educational opportunity for their children.

So, as a black mom, I choose to #StayWoke, stay engaged and plan daily – even on holidays– so that I can fight back effectively against injustice.

I plan daily to educate, empower, and mobilize those of like hearts and minds to help keep the many #Freedoms that so many of my ancestors bled for and were lynched and died for.  I plan daily to protect the most vulnerable of our village.

Why?  Because one thing is for certain; “Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

It’s a Good Thing I Did

And after reading what the NEA (National Education Association) was up to over the holiday, boy was I right to #StayWoke and engaged. While I wasn’t surprised, I did grow weary when I read the July 3rd article from USA Today entitled Teachers’ union considers hard line on charter schools. This article outlines  the NEA’s new policy on charter schools and it’s clearly meant to misguide parents.

This hugely powerful organization that protects adults over students plans to work against parents that choose to educate and keep their children safe by exercising parent/school choice for their babies. And for the life of me, I do not understand how other people’s family choices about school models becomes the NEA’s business!  

Politico’s Morning Education email blast states TEACHERS UNION ADOPTS NEW POSITION ON CHARTER SCHOOLS: As anticipated, the National Education Association on Tuesday adopted a tougher stance on charter schools. The roughly 7,000 delegates at the NEA annual meeting in Boston voted to approve a statement that is more forceful and direct in outlining its concerns with charter schools. The statement calls for the schools to be authorized by local school boards, demonstrate they’re helping to improve the local public school system, and comply with the same rules and laws as public schools.”   

The NEA Teacher Unions are demanding Charters be held accountable to outcomes yet the Teacher Unions push back against any measure to evaluate their members performance – talk about double standards!  

For the record, Connecticut parents of color and the poor want both NEA/CEA and AFT teacher unions to apply this same policy statements of accountability  about Charters, to themselves and all school models.

The bottom line is simple OUR Children OUR Choice!

In addition, we have another  pot calling the kettle black moment. The hypocrisy of the NEA is almost too much to take – it knows no bounds.

Where was NEA’s policy statement against hiding child abuse at the hands of school employees in traditional public schools?  Don’t worry I’ll wait for the response.  I’ve just learned not to hold my breath!  

What makes the NEA so very hypocritical is that for the last several years they have been silent as their Connecticut affiliate, the Connecticut Education Association(CEA), has tried to pass several legislative bills that would protect school employees with a pattern of alleged child abuse.

The NEA and CEA was silent in 2010  when the Connecticut Attorney General raised the alarm about child abuse and again in 2017 when the nonpartisan Office of the Child Advocate issued a similar report regarding school employees not reporting abuse and neglect at the hands of other school employees- even though they are mandated reporters by law! Neighboring Rhode Island just had two cases in recent months where mandatory reporters failed to comply with the law.

Despite status quo stereotypes about parents (especially low income ones), parents have the right to choose the best educational opportunity for their children. We as parents should not  trust anything the status quo says after we’ve seen them stay silent and turn their backs on children being abused when they go to school.

So Lily Eskelsen Garcia and the NEA, and for this matter, you too, Randi Weingarten and the AFT: it’s time for you to clean your own house and make better choices about protecting the children, you get paid to serve, before you judge parents’ choices about how they want to educate their children – keywords – their children.

Stop focusing on school models and start focusing on fiscal and personnel responsibility  and what’s happening to all children during the school day.  

And for the record, parents are changing the rules of the game in education to ensure the safety, education and overall wellbeing of our children–and all children.

Gwen Samuel is the founder and president of the Connecticut Parents Union. She is an advocate for the educational rights of all children to ensure that race, zip code and socio-economic status are not predictors of student success. A parent of two children in Connecticut Public Schools, she also is the founder of two volunteer organizations in Connecticut—State of Black CT Alliance and Meriden Kids Walk Safe Coalition: A Safe Routes to School Initiative. Ms. Samuel, along with other parents and educational advocates, successfully introduced the state’s “Parent Trigger” law, in the form of School Governance Councils, which allows parents to make recommendations that support turning around systemically low-performing schools.

In recognition of her work, Parenting magazine selected Ms. Samuel as one of 51 mothers nationwide to represent Connecticut at the inaugural Mom Congress on Education and Learning Conference in Washington, D.C.

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