“We only have to learn to love all kids like we love our own, to love kids in cities we’ll never visit, kids whose names and cultures and traditions may differ from ours. We have to love them enough to fight for them just as fiercely as we fight for our own..” ~John Kuhn
“The public school building, more than any other structure… is where the people bring democracy to life. It is where the wealth of the nation is translated into action that serves the greater good, action that constructs the nation’s future by making strong boys and girls who are equipped to be free and thoughtful citizens, not career-ready or college-ready, but life-ready and capable of self-government, wise enough and critical enough that they won’t fall for tyranny in any form.
The public school system reveals the American heart. This system, because it’s us, in action–and I don’t mean “us” as teachers, but “us” as a people, “us” as a nation, as voters and citizens, charged with investing in and maintaining schools for our kids, schools for all kids, charged with sharing America’s wealth with one another because a house divided can’t stand, charged with caring and loving across our internal boundary lines, across our color lines and our language lines and our culture lines–because public education is made of and by and for the public, it can never be any better or worse than we are. If our schools are sick, it’s because our society is sick. And if our schools are well, then we are doing something right.
I don’t pretend there aren’t challenges. I won’t claim that all public schools serve their students equally well. But I will contend today, and tomorrow, and forever, that the best thing for every student–from those in hugh-performing, high-funded suburban schools, to those in rural schools that are struggling to pay the bills, to those in urban schools struggling valiantly to overcome the pernicious ravages of a concentrated poverty that teachers did not create, teachers who in the newspeak of school reform are not allowed to talk about poverty without being called excuse-makers–I contend that the best thing for American students in each one of those contexts is the continuation and the preservation of the promise of public education. And I believe it is worth fighting for.
I believe that teachers and parents and students who raise their voices and stand up, who risk their jobs as the teachers at Saucedo in Chicago have done just recently, I believe that these people and their risks and sacrifices are inspirational and heroic, that they aren’t fighting for themselves or their schools, or even their students, but something greater.
They’re fighting to keep the fading light of American democracy burning, to fend off a new generation of robber barons whom the politicians are afraid to enrage. (But you’re not.) They are fighting bravely to preserve the promise of public education and all public trusts, to extend these promises to all citizens, as we said we would do when we made these promises in the first place.
When we give up on the promise, what then do we claim? Where do we go for redress of our grievances, once we’ve surrended our elected school boards and our constitutional guarantees? Do we march into the boardroom of a charter management group or some foundation?
School reform is only backed by the assurances and sweet words of the corporate elite and their spokespeople, but the public education system is backed by the full faith and credit of the people of each state. When public education fails to deliver, we can seek redress at the ballot box and through the court system, which we have been doing and will continue to do until these promises are kept.
Public education is our trust fund, our nest egg. It belongs to our kids, and the kids of our kids, and nobody else can have it. They can’t take it away from us without a fight. We love our kids more than they love their portfolios. As fierce as they are, we’ll be fiercer.
We only have to learn to love all kids like we love our own, to love kids in cities we’ll never visit, kids whose names and cultures and traditions may differ from ours. We have to love them enough to fight for them just as fiercely as we fight for our own–we have to love them enough so that those who enjoy ample school funding levels will insist that schools in poor neighborhoods be funded just as well, or even better in order to provide the kinds of services children in poverty need to be able to scale Maslow’s hierarchy and meet the prerequisites of learning–because they’re Americans just like us, and together we depend on America. We depend on each other.
School funding inequity has to stop because their weakness is not my strength, their poverty is not my wealth, and their pain is not my comfort. Their strength is my strength. Their richness is my richness. Their well-being is my well-being. We are in this together. And public schools are for all of us.”
~John Kuhn, Texas school superintendent
Excerpt from speech with Karen Lewis, March 1, 2014; at the first conference of The Network for Public Education, in Austin, Texas.
Full Video: http://vimeo.com/87984834