Do Politicians Really Care About Education?

It’s campaign season, and that means politicians who will stand before potential voters asking, “what about the children?” But with a new national initiative seeking to make education a major policy focus for the 2020 campaign, we need to ask an essential question. Why isn’t education already a focal point?

Over at the BAM! Radio Network, we ask that important question and wonder why we need to opine in such in the first place. Give it a listen!

In Search of a Political Home

With the 2020 presidential campaign gearing up, dear ol’ Eduflack is feeling a little lost. The intensity of identity politics has me hearing we must be for free college for all, we must reject the notion of charter schools and school choice, and we must condemn communities like those in West Virginia where I graduated from high school. Not doing so simply shows we are part of the problem that is preventing progressive ideals from taking control of our representative democracy.

Over at Medium, my latest explores the complexity of my political and social views, and my hope that there are millions like me that are starting to grow tired of the increasing number of litmus tests that are being applied to demonstrate we belong in our political tribes. As I write:

As an education advocate fighting for equity and school improvement, those on the left attacked me for being a “neo-liberal” who was seeking to privatize and profit from the public schools. When I insisted that school improvement was about far more than just charter schools and school choice, those on the right and those in the reform movement accused me of not being a true believer, of being too sympathetic to both the teachers unions and the neighborhood public schools that educated me and my children.

Give it a read. Let me know what you think. Let me know if I am indeed a solo man without an island.

 

 

Recognizing the Value of Internships

After my first year of college, I was fortunate enough to score an internship on Capitol Hill, working in the office of a respected veteran senator. For a month, I did everything and anything that was asked of me, as I tried to soak up as much of the experience as possible. For me, each committee hearing, legislative memo, and clip packet were like gifts on Christmas morning.

As part of my internship, I also got the privilege of commuting by train – more than an hour each way – from my parents’ home in West Virginia. It was the only way to make my first internship work financially. Additionally, I spent the rest of the summer, as well as every weekend during my internship month, working at a local restaurant. I was gaining valuable work experience walking the halls of Congress. And I was gaining the dollars necessary to live during college by ringing up buffet dinners for Mountain State families and breaking down the soft-serve ice cream machine nightly.

The following summer, I was fortunate enough to earn an internship in the press office of U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd. That was the summer I retired from my career at Ponderosa Steak House. Senator Byrd was a former Senate Majority Leader and was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. A man who became one of the most powerful leaders in DC, Senator Byrd also believed in an honest day’s pay for a hard day’s work. I interned for Byrd for two summers, getting paid a salary both years.

I continued to take the train in from West Virginia both of those summers, to save money and avoid the cost of DC summer rent, but I was able to spend those summers focused on my future. The train rides became opportunities to read about government and policy. The weekends became a chance to explore possible career paths beyond law school. Those paid internships with Senator Byrd transformed me into the communications and policy professional I would become.

All because of a paycheck attached to an invaluable internship.

Last month, the U.S. Senate appropriated $5 million to provide the resources to pay Senate interns, giving each Senate office about $50,000 a year to compensate the lifeblood of Capitol Hill. The funds will hardly ensure that interns earn anything to close to what those interning on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley may earn, what with some Hill offices employing more than a dozen interns in the summer months alone to share that pot. But it is a start.

It is a start in showing appreciation for those that perform the tasks of Capitol Hill interns, perhaps allowing interns the chance to take one fewer shift as a waiter or bartender in DC and being able to use the time to explore the city they are calling home for the summer. It is a step at wiping away the general DC belief that interns are simply free labor, motivated by their need to find paying jobs after college.

More importantly, though, the move to compensate U.S. Senate interns begins to bring some equity to a system that is far from equitable. For decades, unpaid DC internships largely ensured an intern pool of the wealthy and the well connected. In an institution that is already far whiter than the populace, it ensured that its interns were equally as white. In short, it created a labor pool that looked vastly different from the people it was governing.

If the $50 million paid internship pool allows one more low-income student to pursue a Capitol Hill internship, then it is a worthy investment. If it inspired a new generation to see the value of government service, even if it pays far less than the private sector (both at internships and full-time jobs), then it is a worthy investment. If it means more 19- and 20-year olds don’t have to work two or three jobs during the summer in order to pursue its passions, then it is a worthy investment. And if it inspires other industries – including the media and entertainment sectors – to open their checkbooks and eliminate their own “free summer labor pool,” then it is definitely worth it.

No college student is ever going to get rich working an internship on Capitol Hill. Interns will still spend much of their salaries renting a summer dorm room from a local university or packing into short-term lease apartments. They will continue to live on an all-you-can-eat pizza, salad, and banana pudding buffet (as I did as an intern), supplemented by Capitol Hill reception hors d’oeuvres. And a small monthly check from the U.S. Senate ensures that those who seek such an experience may actually be able to take advantage of it.

(This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)

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.

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 

Are We Coming for Surnames Next?

I also worry about letting our sensitivities and concerns for “what if” drive our decisionmaking. We cannot embrace free speech or assembly if we believe it only applies to those with whom we agree. We cannot embrace a free press if we do not acknowledge that includes media with stark biases that may conflict with our personal beliefs. And we cannot embrace inclusiveness if we are afraid a surname will engender concern or outrage.

From my latest on LinkedIn Pulse, exploring ESPN’s head-scratching decision to remove a broadcaster from a U.Va. football game because of his “Robert Lee” name