by Kenneth Eban
Today I was inspired to create a new verb: “Alllivesmattering.”
I define it as the act of ignoring a real issue or social problem by critiquing the very movement addressing and solving the issue.
For example, the critique of #BlackLivesMatter, a national movement to address the government sanctioned police killings of African Americans across the country, produced the counterproductive #AllLivesMatter.
So why did I feel this was important to write about today?
It’s because I went to a weird education conversation led by guest speaker Dr. Julian Hellig Vasquez and hosted by my alma mater, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. It was supposed to be about community-based approaches to reforming schools. I was intrigued. As an education advocate and as someone looking work with local communities to find solutions to close our opportunity gap, these conversations are everything.
Now, I’ll cut to the chase: I was sorely disappointed.
The entire talk discussion was centered on what is wrong with the education reform movement, not the schools. So instead of illuminating and educating people on the issues that face public education, Vasquez spent his time sharing endless criticisms of education reform. He focused only on analyzing the reform movement instead of addressing the problem that drives the movement in the first place (these schools that aren’t educating kids).
In essence, he alllivesmattered education.
Listening to Vasquez you would get the idea that public education is under attack, but the system itself is fine. You would think that what needs to be addressed is the education reform movement, not the achievement gap.
He talked a lot about how bad standardized testing is, and how Teach For America needs to be fought, but there was no focus on how we can improve the outcomes for black and brown children.
This is a conversation the University of Minnesota has sponsored in the past, and this is something opponents of education reform tend to do a lot here. They like to have conversations about adults, and adult politics, and avoid conversations about the students they are serving and impacting.
The crowd, about 80 people, mostly white teachers, would probably never touch proposals like making school funding follow the child. And they weren’t the least bit curious about the problem of too few students of color in traditional schools of education.
Of course there could be no admission that charter schools have empowered parents by giving them more options than just their neighborhood district school.
The more I’m in these discussions, the more I realize when people take to AllLivesmattering they are being hypocritical. For instance, I didn’t see an outcry after recent news that a young white male was killed by the police. The #AllLivesMatter crowd was silent because they don’t actually care about police brutality. They care more about obstructing #BlackLivesMatter.
Likewise, the University of Minnesota and Dr. Vasquez wanted to have a conversation about community-based approaches to education reform, without really talking about the systemic problems with teachers, curriculum, and instruction.
And why would the university repeat the mistake that has drawn complaints before, which is having these events out of view of communities of color? What community were they attempting to attract? Shouldn’t the focus have been on the community affected by educational failure? If so, why not host the event in public schools or in a community center or a more relevant and accessible place for parents and families?
I guess if AllLivesMattering is your intent, you don’t bring the road show to places where black or brown people might interrupt the whitewash.
Kenneth Eban is Minnesota Program Director with Students For Education Reform (SFER). Follow him at @.