Saturday, January 9, 2016

An Open Letter To Senator Bernie Sanders

Dear Senator Sanders,

I have always admired you for standing up for progressive values.  When you announced your candidacy, I was thrilled.  Finally, a landsman running for President.  Not only are you my fellow Litvak, but, like you, I am married to an Irish Catholic.  Shouldn't surprise you to know that I also talk with my hands.

Both you and your worthy opponent, Secretary Clinton, have talked about plans for higher education. Near as I can tell, there's not much that separates the two of you in regards to alleviating student loan debt and calling for free college.

What neither you nor Secretary Clinton have addressed in any detail is how to solve what is known as the school to prison pipeline.  Secretary Clinton recently made a remark, which I consider flippant and business as usual, about closing low performing schools. What I'd like to know from you is how can schools in poor, usually urban, neighborhoods ever turn around if they are automatically put on the chopping block?  Secretary Clinton's remark makes me wary, because both Bill and Hillary Clinton as well as President Obama are connected to the mayor of my beloved city of Chicago.  As you are undoubtedly aware, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has closed schools in poor neighborhoods.  He has also taken away aides and services for Special Ed kids, and given that both our daughters are Special Ed kids, I do take this personally.  Granted, this began before Rahm Emanuel became mayor, but he has  taken these budget cuts to extremes.

I want to remind you that these are Democrats who are talking about replacing public schools with charter schools.  These are Democrats who have rewarded donors by having charter schools named after them.  These are Democrats who, under the so called guise of education reform, who have closed public schools and replaced them with charter schools which can pick and choose who attends and who doesn't.  There are, unfortunately, many ill informed voters who go along with this.  Either they don't understand the ramifications of these policies or they are indifferent to them. It especially doesn't help that a lot of people have a built in prejudice against Special Ed kids.  They take a NIMBY (not in my backyard) approach to Special Ed kids attending schools in their neighborhoods.   

It's unfortunate that is advocating for our Kid O, who is severely disabled and cannot speak, I have to fight attitudes about whether or not she is ultimately going to be a productive member of society.  Why waste resources on her and other Special Ed students?  This lack of resources is further compounded by kids who happen to have been born of color and living in impoverished neighborhoods. Whatever we have experienced in terms of indifference, their parents experience perhaps tenfold or even higher.  It is difficult for me to gauge.  I do know that some parents of gifted children have expressed resentment at me even asking for civil rights on behalf of my daughters, let alone resources. 

My feeling is that children deserve resources regardless of how wealthy their parents are.  They deserve opportunities beyond the purely menial or vocational.  All children, as well as their parents, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  And, regardless of circumstances, not be treated as charity cases or objects of pity. 

Advocating for our daughters, whom I refer to as Kid O and Kid Q, is my passion, but I intend to advocate on behalf of many working class families, educated or not, of color or not, Special Ed kids or General Ed kids.  And to that end, Senator Sanders, I want you to do something for me.

I want you to help me prove George Carlin wrong. George Carlin tells us to not try to change education because, "they don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking." Carlin concludes: "It's called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it."

I want you to help me not only prove that it is possible for us to achieve  what I call education equality, that is, resources for all students regardless of race or economic means within a given community, but also to convince educators on all levels from pre-K through higher education why they should vote for you, despite the fact that the main union, the American Federation of Teachers has endorsed Hillary Clinton. 

My request to you is to come up with and speak about a comprehensive education plan that is more than the buzzwords and of greater substance than so called education reform. My request for you is to expand your message of economic equality to include social justice and civil rights for all students regardless of circumstances.  My request for you is to expand your message of economic justice to include opportunities for children like mine, who are at risk for not receiving educational and occupational opportunities simply because they are deemed not as worthwhile. 

While I appreciate that you are in favor of funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), this simply does not go far enough. Not does simply establishing vocational education programs.  My beloved Kid O has been deprived of resources by an indifferent bureaucracy, and so have others like her.  She deserves something beyond no, no, no, no, no.  And there are too many kids who have been denied a chance to shine. There are too many kids who are hampered by poverty. And it is time to change that.  For all of them. Not just the children of an entitled few.  

Perhaps someone on your staff noticed me tweeting at both you and Secretary Clinton using the hashtag #weirded.  That chat is moderated by Doug Robertson, aka The Weird Teacher.  It is an open ended and very creative chat about education.  That chat inspired me to write to you.  

I would hope that either you or someone on your staff would read his blog, He's the Weird Teacher, as well as the blogs of other educators I admire.  Several blogs are particularly important.  Naturally you should read Diane Ravitch's blog,  Ira Socol, who is a passionate writer about education, especially Special Education, and blogs at Speed Change  I would also urge you to read the Klonsky brothers, Fred and Mike and EduShyster

I would urge you and your staff to follow many educators on Twitter too numerous to mention. Through them you would learn about their passion for community as well as for education.

I have been through so much, Senator Sanders.  Three times I have been through the Department of Children and Family Services ringer.  I had to cash out my IRAs and pension to save our house.  I have been through cancer treatment.  I want to be able to vote for a candidate who will see to it that children all get what they need and deserve.  I want you to truly champion on behalf of all of these children.  I want you to provide a message to other voters, especially the educators I converse with on Twitter.  Before it's too late. 

Some wait for Superman, Senator Sanders.  Me, I wait for Hannibal Smith.  I am hoping that you will fill that role.  Like Hannibal Smith, I love it when a good plan comes together.  More to the point, I love it when someone like you expresses progressive values such as fairness and equality on behalf of many of us who feel like we don't have a voice.  Parents need you. Educators need you.  And, most of all, our children need you to advocate for them.  

Thank you.

Debra S. Gleason (Irish by marriage, Jew by birth, atheist by circumstances, and passionate warrior for all underdogs.)

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