by Khulia Pringle
I am a black woman. I am a Mother. I work in schools. It is with all three of these lenses in place that I headed to Washington D.C. last month to attend the Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus. I emerged from a panel on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act disappointed and worried for the future of our children. Sure, many of the policy positions being touted on stage were not aligned with mine but it was the disrespect directed at me personally that was the most appalling and demonstrative of a very deep-seated dysfunction within this organization that claims to represent the interests of parents like me.
I listened as the panelists shared their opinions and ideas and my interest was particularly piqued when they spoke on the topics of annual testing, college readiness and how poverty is the “key factor” in determining student learning outcomes.
After hearing some of the comments, which can only be described as depressing, I felt I had no choice but to head to the microphone to respond.
Here are a few of the most egregious comments I heard from the panelists:
“If kids aren’t ready, they can just go take remedial classes in college.”
Oh really, you are supporting that they pay to take classes to learn what they should already know and receive zero credit?
“Testing is setting kids up for failure and ruining their lives.”
They will face tests their whole lives so might as well get them used to it. Seems you think they’re ruining your lives as the kids seem just fine.”
“Hey listen, everyone knows drugs are bad for you, and testing is the same. If you do too much of it, it is bad for you.”
I don’t even know what to say about this.
As I began to share my thoughts at the microphone about the importance of students being accustomed to taking tests, some on the panel and guests in the audience, who were members of the National Education Association, quickly turned the conversation to me instead of the topic at hand.
One remarked, “It is so so sad and I apologize that some of our parents and organizers are not educated enough on the subject.”
The condescension in her words was palpable.
Another person remarked “it’s not our fault the woman from Minnesota is privileged.”
So incredulous at the assertion by a stranger that I’m privileged, I exited the room. That gentleman, an alleged leader in the black community, doesn’t know a single thing about my life or my experiences with my own daughter.
I entered the room that day as a hopeful parent and education advocate excited to listen to a panel on the reauthorization of the hugely important ESEA. I was looking in the eyes of a panel of all black folks and my heart broke a little when I heard every single one of them defending low standards for their own communities, for my community. But for them to start coming at me, calling me uninformed and privileged is totally out-of-bounds.
Their public vilification of me because I don’t share their opinion speaks to a dangerous group-think within the Congressional Black Caucus that will hold our children back rather than raise them up.