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Latino Solidarity Supports School Choice

It’s time for Latino leaders to trust their constituents and support their educational choices.

In his 1968 book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire wrote, “trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change. A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.”

But too many champions of the Latino community, in Freire’s words, “substitute monologue, slogans, and communiqués for dialogue,” and “attempt to liberate the oppressed with the instruments of domestication.” Latinos—like everyone else—don’t need to be told what to do or what to believe. We need to be equipped with the tools necessary to reach our full human potential.

But above all else, we need to be trusted to navigate our own path towards liberation.

Si se puede was an effective slogan for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union in the 1970’s, but it has now become so commonly misused that it has lost most of its real meaning. For example, when chants of “si se puede” can be heard at teacher union led rallies—which reject a parent’s right to choose what they believe is the best educational option for their children—it has more to do with denying possibilities to children than anything else.

Despite Latino concerns in respect to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric regarding immigration, many Latinos continue to prioritize education above all else. According to the Pew Research Center, improving the educational system tops the list of Latino priorities for 2017. This is no surprise to those of us on either side of the school choice debate. We all agree that public education is failing too many of our most vulnerable children, and that something must change. What we disagree on is who we trust to make that change.

Many polls and surveys demonstrate the clear majority of Latinos support the idea of school choice. However, many well-intentioned Latino leaders will continue to deny them that freedom to choose. Instead, they insist that our community must stick together in solidarity to support the government run district schools. These leaders proclaim, among other things, that charter schools and voucher programs discriminate and were created by the affluent and predominately Anglo community to try to segregate poor Latinos and Blacks.

But even if charter schools and voucher programs were shown to have better results of desegregation than traditional district schools, it wouldn’t suddenly change these same opponents to champions of school choice. It wouldn’t change their current loyalties to teachers’ unions and other allies.

Freire insists that communities organize to fight for their rights and liberation. However, Freire warns that without trusting the people in their “pursuit of self-affirmation” even well intentioned leaders will—instead of liberating—often unknowingly become the oppressors themselves. Freire says, “Any situation in which ‘A’ objectively exploits ‘B’ or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression.”

Solidarity, according to Freire, is not so much to combine multiple causes (i.e. immigration, LBGT rights, economic inclusion, etc.) to attain more influence through larger masses of people. Instead, Freire insists that solidarity is the support given to individuals to help them through their struggle of self-liberation, and that the community leaders support this liberation process through dialogue and trust—not dictating with monologue and slogans. Freire goes on to say that, “Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects…it is to lead them into the populist pitfall and transform them into masses which can be manipulated.”

Freire isn’t without his own pitfalls. His Marxist lens can obscure important ideas about human dignity. But much of what he had to say on this topic of liberation can enlighten my hermanos y hermanas who don’t currently support school choice.

Those who are still not convinced should trust the people to make their own decisions on whether to participate in a school choice program, as well as stand with them in true solidarity by fighting with them. This can only happen if education is regarded as distinct from the other “solidarity” issues.

Our Latino children’s education and future can no longer be held hostage by good intentions based on a false definition of solidarity.

Originally posted on The Hill

By | March 20th, 2017|EdML Blog|0 Comments

Republicans against Betsy DeVos stand with unions, not parents

When two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, decided to vote against the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, it wasn’t a surprise.

If the last nine years as an education reformer have taught me anything, it’s that—regardless of party affiliation—the status quo will not go down without a bitter fight.

Senators Collins or Murkowski do nothing to support my rights as a parent or my children’s educational success.

In her statement rejecting DeVos, Collins said she was “troubled and surprised” about DeVos’s “lack of familiarity” with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Murkowski also voiced her concerns about a nominee “who has been so immersed in the discussion of vouchers.”

It seems Collins is ignorant of DeVos’s record on special needs advocacy. Murkowski’s primary concern is DeVos’s history of supporting parental choice, but that’s a important plank of her own party’s platform.

Beginning in 2011, as chairwoman of American Federation for Children (AFC), Betsy DeVos led an aggressive effort to pass Wisconsin legislation that would provide the necessary programatic funding for students with special needs who chose private schools in Milwaukee. That bill finally passed in 2016.

When AFC first proposed this special needs bill, Milwaukee already had a thriving school choice program that was serving thousands of children with special needs. However, most of these schools had no way of funding many of the additional and costly services these children required, until DeVos’s advocacy helped remedy that. While ultimately successful, AFC and its ally’s efforts to support these children and their schools were aggressively opposed by many in the government-run school systems.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was established as a critical response to most government-run schools systems’ refusal to educate children with disabilities. Now that same opposition is not only trying to falsely claim that DeVos doesn’t understand or care about educating disabled children, but would like to cheat parents out of their right to send their children to a school that best serves their needs—special or not.

To level false allegations regarding DeVos’s knowledge and experience is unethical, but to deny parents the right to choose what’s best for their children is immoral.

Originally posted on The Hill.

By | February 2nd, 2017|EdML Blog|0 Comments

Latinos, School Choice and Betsy DeVos

If Betsy DeVos were to have a conversation with every Latino in America, a majority of them would support her for U.S. Secretary of Education.

It’s not a far-fetched notion. According to a recent survey from Beck Research, a Democratic polling firm, 75 percent of likely Latino voters support the concept of school choice. Betsy DeVos is school choice, and school choice is the future of education.

School choice is an honest and respectful response to Latino families who have been—and continue to be—trapped in a failing public school system. Over the past 25 years, Mrs. DeVos has expressed jarring, but honest sentiments about the quality of public education. This candor is refreshing to many Latinos.

The Secretary of Education-designate doesn’t pretend to care about our poor children by making excuses on their behalf. She doesn’t promote the soft bigotry of lowered expectations that insults our dignity. Instead, she has personally invested her time and treasure to raise our expectations and the quality of schools in our barrios.

As chairwoman of the American Federation for Children (AFC), Mrs. DeVos financially assisted numerous local organizations such as Hispanics for School Choice in Wisconsin. I founded Hispanics for School Choice in 2009 because even though there were over 5,000 Latino students thriving in the Milwaukee Parental School Choice Program, most Latino leaders didn’t want to upset the teacher’s union with their approval—this is still a problem.

But with the help of AFC, our group was successful in educating families and expanding their educational options. The most effective way to earn the respect of Latinos is to find them where they are and to tell them the truth. Mrs. DeVos has a track record of reaching out with straight talk and real dollars. Our community is worth the investment.

The verdict is still out as to whether the Latino electorate will ever become the political powerhouse most grassroots Latinos have been claiming is inevitable since 2008. According to Pew Research Center, at 44 percent, millennials (ages 18-34) are the largest voting bloc of eligible Latino voters, and the median age of an American born Latino is only nineteen years old (47 percent are under the age of eighteen).

It’s not a matter of if Latinos will ever come of political age but when Latinos actually come of political age.  When that time arrives, Latino voters likely won’t be as concerned with party affiliation and partisan rhetoric as much as they will be about what has been done for their families.

There are some well-intentioned people who think Mrs. DeVos is insensitive to the plight of poor families who they believe are “incapable” of making good educational choices on behalf of their children. They believe that only government run schools can provide the appropriate environment for the most needy. Those folks are free to put their trust in government, but they don’t have the right to force that monopoly on the majority of Latinos who support a school choice agenda.

Should Betsy DeVos be confirmed as Secretary of Education, she will earn the trust of Latino families by making sure parents are in control of their children’s future instead of Washington bureaucrats.

By | January 16th, 2017|EdML Blog|0 Comments

Introducing Education Matters – Latino

Education Matters – Latino (EdML), is an education reform and political advocacy blog founded by Zeus Rodriguez in January, 2017. This website will serve as an online platform to support the work of staff, clients and supporters.

The primary mission of EdML is to advocate on behalf of Latino families regarding the quality of – and access to – K-12 educational options. By aggressively utilizing the power of online media platforms and collaborating with national and local public officials, grassroots organizations and other various stakeholders, EdML will look to express and then translate rhetoric into positive transformational change.

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By | January 1st, 2017|EdML Blog|0 Comments
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