“Everybody had given up on my son,” said the dad sitting across from me at a local coffee shop. Before the word “son” left his tongue tears started to fall. They weren’t dad’s tears.
You see, I have never felt the desperation of a parent with an autistic child saddled with a loosely executed IEP, or one with a pre-teen who reads at a 2nd-grade level. I don’t know the layered trauma of crashing into roadblock after roadblock, usually in the form of nicely compensated bureaucrats, unable to identify one person willing to see my child independent of his situation. I can’t relate to the exasperated parent who expends time and money to advocate for students’ right to a curriculum that makes sense only to be sued by a curriculum company.
I pray I never know the pain of having to retrieve my 6-year-old granddaughter from the police station after an arrest for a throwing a tantrum.
The System Is Anti-Parent
The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House. – Audre Lorde
Families are in the fight of their lives trying to navigate city-sized cracks in a system known for swallowing entire futures. A system that brazenly tells low-income families there is little it can do for their child without more funding and better-paid teachers. A system of gatekeepers, the hired hands who dedicate 40 hours a week to system maintenance, committed to keeping a rigged system. I know all too well — I was once a gatekeeper.
Dreaming of a Masterplan
There are two drums I will beat until my final bit of energy: for every graduate to read proficiently and for parents to be recognized and respected as investors. As such, I have big dreams for parents in this country! Beginning with how municipalities work with the adults responsible for schooling decisions.
In my dream, every city manager or mayor appoints a paid non-partisan council of public, private, and homeschool parents with specific representation from special education, low-income, charters, magnets, and low performing schools assembled to learn from each other and serve as on-call ambassadors to fellow parents in desperate need of assistance to navigate the system. This council must live independent of the district as it will exist to champion families, not systems or sectors.
At the state level, the governor appoints a co-commissioner of education responsible for family education and empowerment. This commissioner will be responsible for oversight of municipal parent councils and populating decision-making tables with parents throughout the state.
Big Plans for POTUS
In my dream, the President of the United States appoints a Secretary of Education and Family Investment. Yes, Secretary Virginia Walden Ford, the woman who fought Congress for access to excellent education, is responsible for marshaling hundreds of grassroots parent organizations and the renegade women and men across the country fighting the good fight for children in their respective communities.
A Marketplace of Power
Further, Secretary Miss Virginia is tasked with the oversight of parents assembling parent representatives from every state twice a year for a non-partisan, anti-ideological national symposium for — parents. You get the idea. It’s for parents by parents.
A marketplace of ideas and best practices for the people on the ground making things happen in local schools and communities. It’s not for teachers, administrators, policy wonks, or entities with contracts to deliver goods and services to school districts. Investors only.
Imagine thousands of parents in one space networking, sharing stories, and exchanging ideas. Beautiful, right?
The inaugural National Symposium of Education Investors will include:
- Keynotes on fighting Goliath delivered by the Arkansas parents of dyslexic children who worked for years to change the state’s reading curriculum and Cary, NC Blain Dillard sued by a math curriculum vendor with fellow Wake County parent advocates.
- Workshop led by the grandmother of the arrested six-year-old and the dad at my coffee meeting on tools for parents in desperate need of an ally.
- Plenary session on navigating a rigged system offered by Kelly Williams-Bolar, parent jailed for falsifying address for her child to have access to a high performing school.
- A “trade show” for parent groups to show off their successes and network with other groups. (See the list below)
- Seminar on Blogging a Movement led by Nashville’s Thomas Weber, New York’s Alina Adams, and Chicago’s SharRhonda Knott-Dawson, Rhode Island’s Erika Sanzi, and Indy’s Shicole Stockton.
- The closing session would include a power-packed panel on how to start a movement.
- Keri Rodriguez, Mass Parents United
- Gwen Samuel, CT Parents Union
- Sarah Carpenter, The Memphis Lift
- Tremayne Haymer, Nashville PROPEL
- Anna Thorsen, Nashville Dyslexia Advocate
- Seth Saavedra, New Mexico Parent Activist
Trade Show participants:
Black Alabamians for Education
Connecticut Parents Union
Delaware Parents Association
Dublin Dyslexia Network – Ohio
EdNavigator – New Orleans/Boston
Elizabeth City, NC Family Education Center
Families Empowered – Houston
Flamboyan Foundation – DC
Hope for Nevada
La Comadre – California
Latino Association for Parents for Public Schools – Atlanta
Mass Parents United
Moms4FAPE and Dads4FAPE
The Memphis Lift
NYC Parents Union
NC School Choice
PAVE – Washington
PTA chapters from all states
Parents Reaching Out – New Mexico
Parent Possible – Colorado
Parent Revolution – Los Angeles
San Antonio Charter Moms
Speak Up Parents – Los Angeles
Step Up for Students – FL
Texas Parents Union
Pipeline of Power
I’m dreaming of a pipeline of parent power from the Schoolhouse to the White House. Conceivably, for every gap, there is a representative at the ready for any parent anywhere in need of an advocate. Though, with anything concerning passionate humans, there are opportunities for politics and competing interests to creep in and soil the process. But this is my dream and everybody is in it for the babies, all of them.
They say it all starts with a dream.