While in D.C. we had the opportunity to meet with some of the White House’s advisory committee members, including the Policy Advisor to the Council on Women and Girls, the Associate Director for Youth Engagement and Education, and the Senior Policy Advisor to the National Economic Council.
Listening to the passions and journeys that lead the panelists to the white house, made me feel extremely inspired, nothing but pure admiration. Here were a bunch of 20 some year olds that shared my same interest to work towards dismantling inequitable systems, and work towards creating a better, more inclusive, and fair society. Yet, I was oddly still left with a certain level of discomfort and disappointment at the end. Not because of the people or because of the stories they shared, but because in all this time of meeting candidates, going to town halls and rallies, it had taken this long to finally hear someone say the words “k-12 public education”and they came from the mouths of the people about the leave the white house, not go in to it.
This causes me to pause, because to me education is perhaps one of the most if not the most important issue our nation faces. It’s not a new one; education reform has been a forming topic for decades. But it has been because it needs to be. Education is the very foundation of our citizenship, our innovations, our success and our ability to achieve. It needs to be constantly evolving to become the best that it can be for all students. But that doesn’t happen if no one is talking about it.
I was very pleased to hear Kalisha’s experiences working for the White House. For her, every piece of policy she has worked on was backed by a personal story from when she was a teacher. When she talked about creating programs and policies that involved poverty, criminal justice,or girls and women’s rights, there was a story or a moment that made those intangible policies suddenly tangible. They became extremely real because at the end of it was a real human; a student who deserves nothing but the best. Her students are living proof of the very systemic inequities that she was trying so hard to work to change. For her, education, both the one she received and the one that she gave, was the driving force for the change she was creating.
Another young woman, who worked for Congresswoman Alma Adams also, found her passions in educational justice. She had experienced first hand what and how much having access to educational opportunities can do to make or break a person. I felt so happy because here I was, a student, being able to talk directly to a legislative representative and her staff about education. We talked about federal standards, busing and student assignment, about diversity in the classroom, and about creating opportunities for minority students. It was as if, all the work that I do in my community around education advocacy was suddenly validated. That here on capitol hill, there were people, once students like me, fighting for the same issues. And even better with direct access to the very people who had the power to act on these issues. But even with that direct access, why did I still feel like education wasn’t reaching the national agenda?
Why did it take so long to hear someone raise these issues? Why haven’t I heard education come up in presidential debates? Why haven’t I heard anyone bring education up at town halls (both the candidates and the voters)? Why wasn’t education seen as important to everyone else as it is to me, or to the women I spoke to that day? The fact that k-12 education isn’t a top priority for most is a reflection of our countries’ misguided and hypocritical electorate.
How can we demand a great education if we don’t demand our elected officials to regard it as a serious issue? How can we cry for opportunities for our own children if we aren’t able to make the tough calls and have the tough conversations about creating those opportunities? How is it that in a global society where we are so focused on economic stability, innovation, and security we fail to secure the foundations of our economy and our future inventors?
I’m grateful to have been able to meet with and speak with such amazing people who are working on these issues. And they are not alone. There are thousands of people and amazing students, teachers, parents, and policy makers working to create a better education system. But no one else seems to be paying attention to the work that is being done. Not enough people are talking about it, and not enough people are demanding it to be on our national agenda. People like to say that our schools are failing our students, but really our schools aren’t failing, we are failing them.