I was once very ignorant of what was taking place politically in this country and this state regarding education. Then, about a year ago I participated in the writing of a report for the National Education Association. I was asked to travel to Washington, D.C. to present the report to senior NEA staff. That process made me privy to some information that caused me to start extensively reading about education policy. I learned about the history of public education and traced policy decisions and their impact over the past five decades. I was able to connect a lot of dots to how lobbying and big money have influenced large scale policy that has ultimately trickled down to having an (mostly negative) effect on my students and my own life.
I was disturbed to read about how some people see students and public schools as an untapped source for obtaining wealth. I must say that I went through a grieving process. It hurt to realize that not everyone wants what is best for ALL children the way that I do. It really, really hurt. It was like everything I had believed in my whole life was a lie. I had believed that the American government was for the people, but I learned that the more money you have the more the government is for you. I have spent the last year researching all of this and if you want a more complete history, you can contact me. I can point you to the information.
I share this part of the story so that you can understand the extent to which I have researched this movement to take over America’s schools by for-profit entities. I also want you to understand that I was in the dark for a very long time just like many of you.
Now, as a result of my participation in that NEA report, I was able to meet several members of the leadership of the Network for Public Education. Anthony Cody, educator, writer, and co-founder of this organization, became a mentor who encouraged me to start writing. I tried every way that I could think of to get out of it. It was too hard, too risky, too time consuming, and too controversial. I just wanted to go back into the dark to the time when I did not know what was happening politically with public education.
Finally Anthony Cody said something very profound to me. Essentially, he said that it is fine to live in the dark. When you are in the dark, you can blame others. BUT once you realize what is happening and you know the truth, it is your responsibility too. Once we know, it is our responsibility to act.
That was not what I wanted to hear, but it resonated so much that I have not been able to turn back. I took a graduate level course on ethical leadership during this time as well. I was able to analyze educator codes of ethics from around the country. Mississippi’s requires me to advocate for fair and equitable educational opportunities for all students. So, I started to write which led me to begin speaking out.
I tell this part of the story so you can understand how seriously I take all of this and how it is an issue of conscience, no morality, for me.
I continued to research and read about educational policy. I have been researching Initiative 42 since at least January. It has been almost like a part-time job. That is how much time I’ve invested in understanding the issue. I have read about 95% of everything published supporting and opposing it. I have had conversations with state leadership, parents, students, and everyone else you can image who both support and oppose the Initiative. I consider myself very well-informed. Most who know me would attest to the fact that I am trustworthy and make a very serious effort to be well-informed.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post for the MS Ed Blog that summarizes what I know about the history surrounding this Initiative and the attack on Mississippi’s public schools. It is very informative, and I hope you will read it.
However, I have been feeling a tug on my conscience that I did not explain why Initiative 42 is so important. I did not clearly explain in that post why I support it. So, I decided to write this very personal follow-up post.
I support Initiative 42 because I have spent a considerable amount of time learning about the national push to privatize our public education system. I have watched that push pick up momentum in Mississippi over the last 12 months.
I am against the privatization of public services, especially public education. I believe public education is the best means for creating equality in our society. I believe in equality and equity. I believe the poorest student that I teach deserves the same quality of education as the wealthiest student that I teach. I believe that privatization of the public school system and school choice will eliminate the chance for true equality for all of our citizens. I believe privatization will harm our most vulnerable students, families, and communities.
I support Initiative 42 because I believe it is Mississippi’s best chance to stop the privatization of public education. I believe it is our best chance to maintain control of our public schools. I believe it is the best chance we have at ensuring that our public schools are truly for the public and not just for the wealthy.
The past few months have been very emotionally draining. Speaking at public events and writing are not just time consuming activities, they are stressful activities. As I mentioned earlier, It would have been easier to remain in the dark. It would have been less risky. It is truly horrifying to speak out so publicly, especially as an educator, on such a controversial political matter. I have shared this personal story in the hopes that I can inspire others to stand up for what is right. I want you to be educated on these matters as much as I am so that you too can find the courage to speak out for our children. I especially want to inspire and encourage you to not be afraid to vote for Initiative 42. It is the best chance our children have.
Amanda Koonlaba is an elementary art teacher in Tupelo, MS. She is a contributor to MSEdBlog. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of any other entity.