Dear Millennials, Please Save Our Schools

A post that is 25% about why we need to care about politics, and 75% about why millennials should be the ones to step up and save our public schools.

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(Me, age 9)

Dear Millennials,

I am one of the “older millennials,” born in 1982, which means that part of me relates to the Gen X generation, but a large portion of me is very much Millennial. There are a lot of negative things said about our generation. Quite frankly, I find it comical that the generations who couldn’t figure out that inhaling cigarette smoke led to cancer would have the nerve to make fun of our organic food. Those generations elected politicians who outsourced our jobs, gave us a Wall Street economy, and oh yeah, Donald Trump. But okay. Go ahead and tell us how much we suck.

I don’t want to pick a fight with the other generations today. Actually, this essay is for the millennials.

Millennials are usually aware of the danger of privatization and special interests. Candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders appealed so much to us because they challenged the 1%, and most of us are fed up with the corruption and greed. We’ve seen the growth of banks that have become “too big to fail,” tax breaks for the wealthy, charter schools and school vouchers being pushed as a “better” alternative to our public schools, the privatization of prisons, the military-industrial complex feeding endless war–all of this seemed to have been spinning out of control under the noses of our previous generations, and continue to grow larger than life.

In Southern California, my generation has felt the squeeze of getting priced out of buying homes, even with good jobs. People have had to take on enormous debt just to get through college, only to find limited job prospects once they graduate. We’re talking about limited good jobs. Jobs that pay a living wage. It’s no wonder that millennials are jaded about politics and many feel disconnected from our political parties. Candidates who promote an active and empowered citizenry make us millennials feel hopeful about democracy amidst a system that seems otherwise rigged.

Unfortunately, knowing about a problem and doing something about it are two different things in life.

There are many passionate and energetic millennials out there trying to make a difference. But there are also a lot of them waiting on the sidelines, maybe waiting for “their turn,” just sort of letting the other generations do their thing. I am so tired of going to events and being one of the youngest people there…at the age of 35!

Millennials, listen up. We’re the ones inheriting the world. That’s not a cliche line that I’m trying to use on you. We’re in the middle of our careers or going to school or working. We’re thinking about starting families or already have young families and our kids in school. Many of us have become homeowners. We’re paying taxes. We’re in the thick of the busiest years of our lives, and I know we’re busy changing diapers or working our 9-5 or busting our butts in college and trying not to drown in student loans.

But guys, I’m pleading with you, we CAN NOT stick our heads into the sand. I don’t want to hear my fellow millennials utter the lamest words people are so quick to throw out in a conversation:

I’m too busy.

Come on. If you have time to go to your kids’ soccer game, or to that concert in L.A., or watch Monday night football, or whatever the hell you do, you have time to do something as a citizen in a “democracy.” You have time to invest in your future.

People defriend others on Facebook over politics, as if someone just insulted their mama, and yet the thought of doing something political, like maybe attending a meeting, going to a rally, precinct walking, joining an interest group, or whatever– that doesn’t typically cross the average person’s mind. Because they’re TOO BUSY. Why get offended about politics if it’s not important enough to participate in? The world already has enough armchair intellectuals and armchair activists. We don’t need more keyboard jockeys. We need people to start doing stuff.

Voting is a good step. But it’s a baby step. There are so many things to do beyond voting. As we’ve seen in many elections (even for us millennials), voting isn’t enough. We need other people to vote too. And we need our elected officials to know that we are paying attention, and we need to hold them accountable.

Many people assume that “other” people will magically make things happen. Somebody else will volunteer. Or maybe if we just don’t think about it, maybe it will go away.

We see what’s happening, but too often we feel as tiny as ants and believe that perceived lack of efficacy absolves us from taking responsibility.

We have to do something. Anything. Even small things.

Or maybe it just feels too painful. The baby keeps you up all night and you’re stressed out at work and having marital problems and a laundry list of other stressors, and bothering with “politics” just seems like it would exacerbate the pain. It’s easier to stay away.

But staying away from politics, much in the same way that staying away from your dishes and laundry and bills and health, never ends well. The pain catches up with you tenfold. Staying away is guaranteed to create more problems in your life.

This is our world. We are constantly affected by the decisions made by other people, every single moment of our existence–how can we not care? How can we not want to have a say? We have to invest in our communities. Our homes. Our schools. We have to use our voices. We have to show our children how to use their voices–model it for them. Why would we want other people making all of the decisions for us, especially since many of these decisions are being driven by special interests.

Let me just tell you why I started writing this letter. I was recently looking at somebody’s Facebook page (a millennial) and it said that they worked at a “public charter school.”

My first reaction was: are you kidding me?

Orwellian doublespeak.

Do not be fooled by this. A public school is not the same as a “public charter school.” Shame on this person for feeding into the corporate game. For selling our communities down the river just to live a deluded life of self-importance and success at the expense of our children.

You might be scratching your head, because unless you’re in the thick of these issues we tend to ignore them or not look too closely, and that’s how we get fooled. But we have to think critically about everything if we want to avoid a life of manipulation.

A public charter school means it’s basically like a private school that uses public money, but they cloak themselves as “public.” They are most definitely not the same.

Charter schools use slick marketing techniques that make parents feel empowered. They throw out cliche lines like “school choice” and “parent choice” and they pretend to care about opinions, but in reality the vast majority of them only care about their bottom lines. They may try to bribe you with a free laptop. They use the rhetoric of “failing public schools” to try to justify their predatory ways. This is all smoke in mirrors.

They don’t want your empowerment. They want your kid so they can make money. Charter schools are big business. According to Chris Hedges, in 2012 he reported that the federal government spends $600 billion a year on education. There is money to be made by the corporations–if they can take over.

By cloaking themselves as “public,” they attempt to remove themselves from the controversy that vouchers present (since vouchers use public money for a private school of the parent’s choice). Charter schools are a clever way to “privatize” our schools. It’s a workaround in places where vouchers aren’t legal. But make no mistake. Charter schools have much more in common with vouchers than they do with public schools, including the fact that both charter schools and voucher programs do not provide results nation-wide that prove that they are better.  In fact in most cases, they are worse.

In the process, charter schools break unions and they heavily push standardized testing. People get fooled into thinking that test scores are an indicator of success, rather than knowing what they really are–English proficiency exams and a measure of affluence. People buy houses based on tests scores, but really, you should just admit to yourself that it’s not actually about the test score. The underlying truth is that people are looking for a higher score so their kids don’t have to go to school with the poor kids. By saying it is “test scores,” it makes the truth more palatable in your head, and you get to avoid looking like a jerk.

The most troubling part of charter schools is not having elected school boards. School boards consist of individuals elected to govern the school district, and they make all of the important decisions. We vote for them. We the people. The origins of school boards trace back to Massachusetts in the 1600s. They are a very important, democratic aspect of public education. It is how we can keep our schools accountable and close to the communities they serve.

Allowing public schools to be replaced with charter schools means no elected school boards, and consequently no transparency. If the public doesn’t like what the school district is doing, well, too bad. You don’t get to vote anybody out or recall them. You’re not going to have access to salaries, budgets, or any of the other information that are available in a public school district. Charter schools can do whatever they want and you, the taxpayer, will have no right to that information, even though they are lining their pockets with taxpayer money.

It’s scandalous.

Most charter schools aren’t homegrown and innovative as was their intent  when they first sprang up in the 90s. Today, most charter schools are run by corporations, and many of them are headquartered out-of-state. It makes one wonder how an out-of-state corporation would know local needs, and how they would be held accountable.

You may not be in the habit of thinking about education as being profitable. We went to school. We send our kids to school. We’re not writing checks for tuition to the public schools, so we tend to not think about it. The national average of per pupil spending is a little over $12,000. Times that by the number of school-age kids in our country.

There is money to be made. Lots of money.

Charter schools make a profit off the backs of children, and you have no right to know how they spend their money. They operate like a business–hire less qualified teachers and pay them less, spend less on supplies, keep costs down–all at the expense of the children–and then reap robust profits. That’s how it works. It’s a racket.

Charter schools prey on poor areas. They infiltrated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Now they’re prowling around Puerto Rico. They are known for exploiting poor parents and parents who don’t speak English, fooling them into believing that their schools are better.

In reality, charter schools do not outperform public schools. Studies have shown that charter schools vary significantly in quality. There is a “far-reaching” subset of poorly performing charter schools, and it is difficult to close them down (no oversight! No taxpayer accountability!).

You may know of an anomaly charter school that embodies the spirit of the original intent of charter schools–innovative and offers something more than the local public school–but these are not the norm in the charter school world. Why would we allow our community schools to be basically privatized by corporate charters that do not typically perform better than the public schools? This makes no rational sense.

Furthermore, even the “good” charter schools lack elected school boards. We are literally allowing private interests to take away our right to vote so they can profit off of our children.

Charters often do not serve the same proportion of English learners and students with disabilities. In fact, many charters have been known to get rid of their less desirable students who don’t help their test scores. Public schools have to educate all students. They can’t cherry-pick like charter schools.

There is even a self-exiled Turkish religious leader who has been linked to inciting a coup in Turkey, and he happens to run 128 Gulen charter schools in 28 states, siphoning over $2.1 billion in taxpayer dollars since 2010. Locally we have the Magnolia Science Academy in Santa Ana, California, and their Chief Executive Officer and Superintendent is Caprice Young, the same woman who founded the California Charter Schools Association. She cloaks herself as being an advocate for education reform, but she is basically just a charter school lobbyist. THESE PEOPLE HAVE AN AGENDA. A money-making, public school squashing agenda.

Did you know that there are charter school lobbying organizations that are being funded by the likes of Eli Broad, the Koch Brothers, the Waltons, and other filthy rich people who have no interest in actually investing in our schools. They have no education experience, but they want to tell us what is wrong with our schools. One has to wonder why they have taken such an interest in attacking public schools (with elected board members) instead of maybe, gee, I don’t know, helping them? Millennials are smart enough to follow the money trail. Follow the money, guys. Why do they care so much that they spent $9.2 million dollars to elect 2 pro-charter candidates to the Los Angeles school board?

Think, think.

Guys, this really pisses me off. If you still don’t believe me about the slippery slope of charter schools, and how it’s a dangerou idea to let them take over, you can read more.

Yikes. I have a headache just looking at all of this.

And if you’re still unclear about the financial incentive that big business has to take over our public schools, look no further than Donald Trump’s appointment of billionaire Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, a woman who has been on record boasting about how much money her family gives to the Republican Party, who has pushed vouchers for private schools, and was also on record knowing very little about public education. Our current Education Secretary didn’t know what the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was, which is like Education 101 for any educator. The President appointed a woman who is against public education to advise him on public education policies. Follow the trail.

What about nonprofit charter schools, you might be wondering. Thanks for asking. There’s money to be made there, too. Administrators and companies hired to manage the schools take a huge cut out of the budget. For example, a charter school administrator who was tasked with overseeing school programs for 6,700 students in New York was making $485,000/year, and this was at a non-profit. It’s basically the same criticism of a lot of charities today–if so much is going toward the overhead and administration, how much is actually going to the cause?

Are public schools perfect? No.

Can we do something about it? Yes.

I like knowing that I can do something about it. I can go to a school board meeting. I have access to public minutes. I can work to help get candidates elected. I can vote. I can hold my elected officials accountable. We can work as a community to tackle problems. There is transparency. I want to keep it that way. I want my neighborhood schools to stay in the hands of the voters–not get outsourced to charter schools pretending to be public schools just to make a profit. There is a difference.

Students and parents come and go. The community stays. Public schools belong to our communities, and it should be the community who determines the needs of our local schools through elected school boards.

Our public schools are important. More educated countries consistently rank higher for having better governments. We don’t have to stretch our imaginations to figure out why. There is a correlation between increased voter participation and higher education levels amongst voters. You’re more likely to have better jobs. You can navigate bureaucracy and have better self-advocacy skills. You have skills and resources to be more likely to participate in interest groups and/or political parties. Voters need to be able to hold schools accountable. We need public schools and we need our school boards.

Listen, I don’t like everything about schools. But you aren’t going to like everything about anything. Heck, I don’t even like half the people who I’m related to. That’s life. You know what you do if you don’t like something?

You get out there and do something about. You find consensus. You don’t vote to sabotage your own self-interests as a person living in a community, or vote to sell your neighbor’s kids down the river. Likewise, you don’t allow others to make decisions behind closed doors and fool you into going along with their money-making schemes.

Here’s another thing. The folks trying to malign public schools neglect to address the serious issues facing our society. Namely, poverty.  51% of our kids today are living in poverty. Our children are not suffering from public schools. Our children are suffering from poverty.

Come on, Millennials. We can connect the dots. Their clever and expensive marketing doesn’t have to fool us. A school doesn’t “suck” because the school sucks. Public schools serve everyone. They serve society’s impoverished communities, including the children who come to school hungry, the kids who sleep on the floors of an overcrowded apartment, the kids who don’t have access to adequate health care, children in homes with a variety of social problems. Children battling issues. English learners. Everyone.

We need to ensure that our public schools continue to be places that serve all children. Charter schools do not guarantee this. In fact, it’s likely they won’t want your kid if he/she doesn’t help their test scores.

I have a 2nd grader who attends a public school. My 2 other children are still in preschool, but they will also attend the public school.

I attended public schools my entire life, and even attended public universities.

I teach at a public school.

My late husband attended public schools and taught at a public school.

We think public schools are pretty damn important. Public education has allowed us to create the life that I have. Public school helped me have a career. It helped me find my love of writing. As a widow and a single mother, I am eternally grateful that the public schools helped me get a solid education that has allowed me to live an independent life.

I can say “I’m too busy” to care about the heavy political issues coming from every direction. I’ve got a lot of really great and valid excuses, but instead I go precinct walking with my toddler strapped onto my back. I take the kids to protests. I’m not saying I’m a saint. I can probably do more. But what I am saying is that I’m doing something despite my pretty difficult circumstances.

I simply will not allow my children to become revenue for a business. I will not sit back and watch the public schools in my community get gobbled up by greed. I’m not going to watch our democratic rights be taken away from us without a fight. Not on my watch.

I will not sit back and watch my future and the futures of my children and grandchildren sold to the highest bidder.

I’m not going to be the kind of person who stands for nothing.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. But it’s time, Millennials. It’s time for us to step up to the plate. It’s time to do the work. We’re up for the challenge.

It’s time to reclaim our government.

It’s time to demand that our elected officials stay accountable to the people who elected them.

It’s time that we pay attention to local decision-making with as much diligence as we pay attention to our TV programs and sports teams.

Stay vigilant.

Care about each other.

Fight for each other.

Stand up to injustice.

Fight oppression.

Build bridges.

It sounds idealistic, but how about this. Why don’t we commit to at least doing something? This isn’t a partisan issue. This is protecting our local government.

Let’s do this. Post something you can and will do in your local community. We can get ideas from each other. No experience necessary. You just have to have a heart to want to leave future generations with healthy public schools who will educate all children, the same kind of heart that wants clean water, affordable housing, accessible and affordable health care, and the basic things we should have in a democracy. I wrote this for you, Millennials, because I know you have the hearts to care. That’s what makes our generation special. We care. We’re smart and curious, and I think the missing piece is that we’re used to letting older generations do the adulting. We’re used to being treated as if it’s not our turn. We haven’t been invited to the table.

It’s time to adult.

Millennials, you have a place at that table. A very important place. It’s time for us to take over this dinner party. I humbly ask you to join me. It’s that important.

Signed,

Your Millennial Sister

 

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