Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My open letter to President Obama about public education and his legacy

Dear President Obama,

Along with millions of Americans, I proudly and joyously voted for you in 2008. I believed that finally our nation was living up to its promise of a land where 'all men [and women] are created equal'. I have continually admired your resolve and poise in the face of birthers and other racists who have purposefully jeopardized the best interests of our nation as they plot your political demise. And I voted for you again in 2012, albeit without the same level of enthusiasm. In many ways I'm still happy you are my president. The economy is heading in the right direction, millions of previously uninsured people now have access to affordable healthcare, and our troops are coming home from over a decade of war. But to be perfectly honest, in certain ways it's more about what an alternate McCain or Romney universe would have looked like, and less about what yours looks like now because theirs would have been exponentially worse for people like me and those whom I serve.

You see, I'm an educator, and I see first hand the devastating effects your education policies, and by proxy, those of state and local officials, have on the very people whose hopes and dreams carried you to victory; whose hopes and dreams you hold so close to your heart: the people who waited hundreds of years, and waited hours in line to cast their vote so that someone just like them could finally sit in the Oval Office. Mr. President, you have let them—and all of us—down. And in light of all the good that you have accomplished, in light of what your presidency means to the history and the moral conscience of this nation, what a terrible, ironic tragedy it would be if your legacy turns out to be the further marginalization of those who have lived their lives in the margins.

Now you may wonder what a middle class, white woman from the suburbs knows about racial inequality. And that's a fair question. While I could never walk a mile in your shoes, I walked many miles in other shoes. I was raised by Roman Catholic Republicans who believed that 'Blacks and Jews were destroying the country.' I never believed that. The 'N' word was used quite freely in my home. I didn't like that. My religion told me that humans were made in the image and likeness of God, while simultaneously telling the world it had the market cornered on salvation. I rejected that. So whenever I'm in a situation that calls for standing up for the little guy, I'm there. On stilts. I don't know how to do anything else. And lately, I—and millions like me around the country—have been wearing those stilts on a daily basis as your policies destroy public education in cities with high populations of poor and minority children like New Orleans, Chicago, Newark, and Philadelphia to name a few.

If you believe as millions of Americans do, that in the United States, all men and women are truly equal, your education policies must change because they are perpetuating the segregation of millions of poor and minority children, and draining our public schools of vitally-needed resources. As we honor the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act, we see prominent Americans of every racial background jumping on an education 'reform' bandwagon that's headed off a cliff. They've sold their souls to profits and influence and erased decades of work to stem racial inequality. Just as Citizens United has given corporations the ability to buy elections, your education policies combined with President Bill Clinton's New Markets Tax Credits, have given those same corporations—and foundations and hedge funds—the ability to buy public education and segregate the very students you want to help most. 

The United States' largest labor union—my union—The National Education Association, has called for the resignation of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Mr. President, he is not qualified to manage education policy in this country. He is out of touch, insensitive, and woefully ill-informed about what makes for successful teaching and learning. He is the reason why so many in my profession are becoming disillusioned with your administration. You can and must do better.

With all due respect, sir, your failure to act, your failure to accept the mountains of credible evidence that prove your administration's education policies further segregate poor and minority students puts you in the same category as climate deniers, creationists and yes, birthers.

I do not want you, the first African American President of the United States, to go down in history with that hanging over your head. You deserve better. We deserve better. 

Respectfully,
Marie Corfield