As I think about the many times Late Congressman John Lewis risked his life so that I may share my opinion with the world, I am grateful for his timeless, empowering words.
"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble."
For impoverished Black students across the United States the struggle is not for a day, but for 70 days. It is for 10 weeks. It is for 2 months. That is how long we have until the November 3 presidential election that could change the course of history. Over the last four years, we have watched in absolute horror as the secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, has single-handedly destroyed the American educational school system. She has invited an influx of charter schools into poor neighborhoods, many of them providing a deplorable educational structure that has perpetuated the demise of learning in the communities where exceptional education is needed most. She has allowed charter systems to operate under the guise of choice, pushing poverty-stricken Black students into a “lottery,” forcing them to roll the dice and gamble their placement at a “good school,” as if they should have to take a chance on their education.
Now, she is coercing public school districts to relinquish millions of dollars in CARES Act funding to private schools, while charter systems are able to retain their aid. This means that already underfunded urban and rural public school districts that service impoverished Black students will have to grossly divide their funding and determine what the most important issues are — when everything is important in the midst of two unprecedented and fluctuating pandemics. Public school districts that service the most disenfranchised students have to determine how to prioritize and strategize safe school reentry, healthy student socialization, academic accommodations to navigate tremendous learning gaps and mental health awareness to address the severe traumas students have experienced, all while millions of dollars are being stolen from their budgets to support private schools.
Betsy DeVos’s blatant privilege has afforded her the opportunity to play Russian Roulette with the educational journeys of the most vulnerable population in America — Black students. The audacity of a white woman, who has never served in any educational capacity, to make such integral decisions for Black students is beyond disrespectful. How do you become the highest-ranking official of education in the greatest nation in the world, yet you’ve never been an educator?
In 1848, education reformist Horace Mann said, “Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance wheel of the social machinery.” He built the public schools system on the promise that it would be inclusive, diverse and equitable. He created an educational milieu that would engage Black students in an embracing curriculum and empower them academically and socially, preparing them for college or career.
Mann, who was white, courageously and intently led the charge to offer the innovative public schools system to all Americans. He knew that Black students having access to a solid education would be the catalyst of their liberation. Fast forward 172 years later, and there is a white woman, claiming to be an educational reformist who is cultivating schools to address the needs of disadvantaged Black students. Instead, she has totally reversed the ideas of Horace Mann and has supported a school system that has academically crippled Black students with the placement of dysfunctional, low-performing schools in areas that will continue to regress if the educational institutions embedded within do not meet the needs of the students and fail to improve their academic trajectories.
As an urban teacher who grew up in impoverished New Orleans during the 1990s — under a consistently failing public school system — I know firsthand the irrefutable power of education. I know that education is the key to escaping and overcoming the oppressive systemic structures that have intentionally been created to marginalize impoverished Black students. Most importantly, I know that another four years with Betsy DeVos at the helm of our country’s educational system means that Black students will continue to endure irrevocable damage that will have lasting effects for generations to come.
We cannot continue to allow Betsy DeVos to use Black children as guinea pigs, coercing them into schools that are no more than science experiments with non-certified teachers who lack the cultural responsiveness, trauma education or pedagogy to provide an academic experience of which these dynamic students are so worthy. In my opinion, fighting for educational equity for marginalized Black students is good, necessary trouble. Ensuring that public school systems retain all of their funding, as we make our best attempt to eradicate the overwhelming achievement gap that has grown tremendously during the pandemics, is good, necessary trouble. Making sure I use my voice to rid the most powerful educational entity in America of an incompetent, underqualified figurehead is good, necessary trouble. And, it just so happens, I have never ran away from good, necessary trouble in my life.