My Kids Should Be Friends With All Comers

Over the weekend, The New York Times made dear ol’ Eduflack incredibly sad. No, it wasn’t the rash of stories on President Donald Trump’s latest statements or the most-recent revelations of what celebrities did what despicable things from their position of power. Sadly, many of us have become immune to that. Instead, I was troubled by a commentary piece from Ekow N. Yankah, Can My Children Be Friends With White People?

The law professor concludes, in the Times’ Sunday Review, that children of color — particularly African-American children — just cannot be true friends with white kids in Trump’s America. That real friendship is just impossible in the toxicity that is modern-day America.

Those who know Eduflack know that I am, by nature, a cynical pessimist. But I just cannot, and will not, accept Yankah’s conclusion. For if I did, I just play into the the same thinking that gives rise to every torch-wielding hater out there today. And I just won’t do that.

As the father of two Latinx children, I refuse to accept that hate and lack of understanding should win. I cannot accept a world when my own children live in some sort of DMZ, where their mixed race family ensures that they have no true home, no center of trust they can depend on. I refuse to oblige a notion that says my young children can only truly trust the handful of other brown children they might find in their schools, and should distrust the white, African-American, Chinese-American, and Indian-American kids who dominate their classrooms and social activities. I just won’t do it.

Years ago, I wrote about observing my son’s birthday party, a party held shortly after the AME Church shooting in Charleston, SC. My son had just turned nine, and I watched him enjoy an afternoon with friends representing a wide range of races, colors, religions, and creeds. As our nation was trying to come to grips with the horrific actions in the Palmetto State, I found warmth in realizing that hate — and racism — was not something our kids are inherently born with.

Five months later, I asked my daughter about the start of her new school year. The previous year, she was the only Latinx in her class. There also were no white kids in her class. So as we were talking about her new classmates, I casually asked if she had anyone in her class who looked like me. She paused for a second and replied, “no daddy, there are no bald kids in my class.”

Just this fall, I had the honor and privilege of helping coach my daughter’s junior pee wee cheerleading squad. I was the only male among four coaches, three junior coaches, and 17 cheerleaders. The only Latinx, my daughter spent the past three months training and working and cheering and laughing and crying alongside a squad of white, African-American, and Asian-American girls. These girls weren’t identified by their race or their family income. Instead, they were all Wildcats. That was what mattered to them. That’s what should matter to all parents today.

So while I can appreciate where Yankah is coming from, it is not a thinking I can or will subscribe to. I recognize all too well that the color of my kids’ skin means they are treated differently when they are with me than when they are out alone or with friends. I also want my kids to live in a world where they can believe in humanity. I want them to understand that while they may face hate or discrimination in their lives, that is on the individual hater and the individual only.

Perhaps I am being pollyannish. It won’t be the first time I’m accused of such. But coming off an election week where so many are preaching that love defeated hate, how can we embrace the notion that we must teach our children the only individuals they can truly trust, can truly confide in, can truly be friends with are those who come from the same backgrounds, the same neighborhoods, and are the same same race?

First and foremost, I want both of my kiddos to be seen as fine human beings. I don’t want to have to teach them to prioritize race in determining trust or friendship. When I do so, I’m just handing the future to those who muddied my alma mater of the University of Virginia this past summer. I refuse to do that.

Come at the King …

In King Lear, Shakespeare famously wrote, “come at the king, you best not miss.” For those not as familiar with the Bard, it is also a quote many today will attribute to Omar from The Wire. Most, particularly those in politics, know that when you come after the top dog, you better be successful … or suffer the consequences.

That may be a very hard lesson that the New Jersey Education Association is soon to learn. For those who hadn’t been paying attention to legislative races in the Garden State, the state’s largest teachers union decided to set its sites this fall on the Senate President. The Democratic Senate President, Steve Sweeney. And the NJEA did so by pouring millions — at least $5 million reported before election day — into Sweeney’s Republican, Trump-loving opponent.

Why, one may ask, did the teachers union decide to take on the (at the time) most powerful Democrat in the state, a Democrat with strong backing from labor unions across Jersey? By most accounts, it had to do with pensions and Sweeney’s decision to side with his constituents and not back a constitutional amendment guaranteeing increased pension payments by the state. Some might also point to Sweeney’s willingness to be open to the idea of charter schools, particularly in the struggling communities of South Jersey.

All told, the Sweeney Senate race is likely to be the most expensive state legislative race in history. Some say the total spending will exceed $20 million when all is said and done. Much of that was money Sweeney had to use to defend himself, dollars that he otherwise would have raised to help other Democrats win Assembly and Senate seats at a time when Democrats were taking back the governor’s mansion for the first time in nearly a decade.

When the dust settled Tuesday night, the most powerful Democrat in New Jersey (and Sweeney may just retain that title even after Gov.-elect Phil Murphy is sworn in in January) won his state senate re-election campaign by 18 points, defeating the Trump/Chris Christie protege — and darling of the NJEA — by 18 points.

The big question is, what comes next? In the rough and tumble world of Jersey politics, it is hard to see Sweeney giving the NJEA an “attaboy” and congratulating it for sticking to their beliefs and doing what they thought was best for its members. While Sweeney has always been a friend of the teachers — and even had the AFT come into the state and campaign with him to mitigate the NJEA attacks — it is hard to see a world where Sweeney now becomes besties with the NJEA, even if the NJEA is now on the top of the “must call list” for the incoming governor.

The NJEA decided to come at the king, and they missed. No one doubts that Gov.-elect Murphy has made a list of promises to the NJEA as part of his march to the big desk. And Murphy will need to make good on those promises, helping move the NJEA’s agenda forward in a state when the governor’s office burned NJEA requests on sight for nearly a decade. But we are fooling ourselves if we think the Senate President is going to just go along with every one of those requests because a Democratic politician asks for it, even if that politician is a Democrat governor elected by 13 points in a blue state.

Successful politicians like Sweeney don’t get where they are, and don’t hold onto where they got, by rolling over and showing a soft underbelly. Sweeney is all too aware of who his friends are, who helped him win re-election, and who needlessly forced him to spend millions of dollars that could have been more wisely spent increasing his majority in the State Senate. He may not proactively seek retribution in the upcoming legislative session, but he will not forget. Nor should he. Progressives may rejoice about their collective successes on election day, but when they turn on dependable Democrat voices like Sweeney — and back conservative Trumpites to play single-issue politics — it is a dangerous gambit that places politics ahead of policy.

Nothing will get through the New Jersey Legislature, no matter how strongly it is endorsed by the incoming governor, that the powerful Senate President doesn’t want. The NJEA came at the king, and it missed. As a result, the union — and its members — may have to pay the price. That’s politics, particularly Jersey politics. And it will likely be a very expensive lesson for the New Jersey Education Association.

 

Don’t Buy Those Farewell EdSec Cards Just Yet …

For the past week or so, social media has been all a-twitter (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself) with rumors of the demise of the Betsy DeVos administration. Far too many people have been sharing news stories from shady fake-news sites declaring EdSec DeVos was leaving the Trump Adminustration, was being pushed out of the Trump Administration, and was generally being cast aside.

Yes, some of these shares were from people I know who post anything anti-Trump, truth be damned. But even respected voices like the AFT’s Randi Weingarten shared the information with the screamer, “breaking news!”

Many of those questionable news sites sourced the rumor back to the respected publication Politico. Such citation gave the whispers even greater respectability. And it forced Politico to share the following with its readers this morning:

VIA POLITICO’S MORNING EDUCATION: Articles are making the rounds online that cite a POLITICO Magazine profile of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and claim that education “officials” expect her to step down. That is NOT what the POLITICO article said, and there’s no reason to believe DeVos is on her way out. What the POLITICO article, written by Tim Alberta, did say: “Anyone betting against DeVos serving all four years of Trump’s first term – which, she tells me, she plans to do – is underestimating the sense of duty and moral righteousness deeply embedded in someone who could be doing just about anything else right now.”

The false reports have gained traction. Randi Weingarten, the American Federation of Teachers president, who is a constant DeVos critic, tweeted one, calling it “breaking news.” The posts appear to be built around a single quote in the POLITICO profile. Thomas Toch, the director of FutureEd, an independent education think tank at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy – not an education “official,” as many of the posts claim – said in the POLITICO piece that “in Washington education circles, the conversation is already about the post-DeVos landscape, because the assumption is she won’t stay long. …” Toch took to Twitter to clear the record: “Was tallying DeVos odds in @politico, not suggesting her plane’s idling at National with a flight plan to Michigan. I give her a year.”

Despite what we may think, wanting something to be true isn’t proof of its veracity. As long as President Trump has faith in his EdSec, Betsy DeVos isn’t likely going anywhere. As long as the EdSec believes she can have impact, she isn’t likely vacating the top floor of Maryland Avenue.

 

Our Schools Need a Little More Mockingbird, Not Less 

Recently, a school district sought to remove the novel To Kill a Mockingbird from its curriculum because educators feared the subject matter of the Harper Lee book might make students a little too uncomfortable. 

But with the realities our communities, schools, and kids are facing these days, perhaps we need more Atticus and Scout, not less. We explore this important topic on the latest edition of #TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network. Be sure to give it a listen. 

Is All Golden in #EdReform? Hardly. 

Just as we seek from schools, teachers, and students, we need quantifiable goals and clear metrics for measuring their achievement. Ed reform needs to hold itself accountable, even if that means admitting to setbacks, losses, or achieving bupkis. It means focusing on what is needed—even messy issues such as instruction—not just on cut-and-dry operational issues.

From Eduflack’s latest for the Fordham Institute’s, Flypaper, questioning whether the past year can truly be labeled a success for the education reform movement 

Show Me the #STEM Money!

Earlier this month, the Trump Administration announced its intent to bolster STEM education in the United States by offering new dollars for computer science education. But at first blush, it looks like an effort to throw pennies at an issue that deserves dollars (and a real commitment). 

Over at TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore the topic and what it really means for the future of STEM. Give it a listen!