The following post is the opening statement given by Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, President of Indiana Coalition for Public Education at the annual all-member meeting on August 21, 2021.
"We are living in a very divided time, a tumultuous time. We are so polarized as a nation. Racial inequality, social and economic injustice has been exposed--not for the first time, of course, and not because it was not here all along, but because this pandemic has heightened our awareness of these inequities, exposed the extent to which we are divided in a way that has been deeply disturbing-- if not traumatizing.
Throughout history, a national crisis has often meant that we rally together to support one another, look out for each other and work to overcome. This pandemic, with more than 600,000 Americans dead, has seen us falling short of that unity and common purpose.
We are so divided.
A few years ago, during the debate over health care and the ACA, an author (Lauren Morrill) tweeted her utter frustration over the polarization and politization of this issue and she said, “"I don't know how to explain to you why you should care about other people." How do we teach this?
Educators know. How do we teach people to understand and trust science and scientists? How do we teach people to know what reputable sources of information are? How do we teach people to be critical thinkers? How do we teach people the skills to get along with one another, to have respect for each other, to disagree in a civil way and articulately debate one another, express one’s opinion in an inside-voice, find compromise and cooperation and basically the ability to get along in a pluralistic society working toward the Common Good?
The mission of public education is to take each and every child and educate him, her, or them to not only achieve academically, but find their passions, interests, and continue to be curious about their world, care about their world and contribute toward making it better long after graduation. Public education is where children learn side-by-side with those who are different than they are, believe and think differently, and in their interactions, they learn to find common ground and to respect and care for one another. Where else do children from all walks of life have the regular ability to be together?
PUBLIC EDUCATION UNITES US.
IT IS THE ULTIMATE GROUP PROJECT ON WHICH OUR ENTIRE SOCIETY DEPENDS.
While this is the premise or foundation of Public Education’s mission, it has also been a promise unfulfilled for all. We must recognize where we have failed to serve all children well. We must recognize the systemic ways in which historically marginalized people have not been served as well and work to overcome this. Our public schools have been actively doing the difficult work of removing barriers to learning for children. This is not some diabolical plan to make Marxists of children or to brainwash them into an ideology with a hidden agenda as those loud extremists at school boards across the state and country would have some believe. This is about creating a country where all children can thrive regardless of circumstance. If we believe in “liberty and justice for all” than we must look at where we have failed to provide that so that we can do better. We can be better.
The latest wedge issues are nothing new. It is the latest attempt to politicize public education and make it about party politics. Party politics has no place in our schools. It should not be a partisan issue to get a vaccine—it is science. It should not be a partisan issue to wear a mask—it is public health. Scientists, not politicians, should guide us. And it should not be a partisan issue to work on barriers to learning, to do the work of fulfilling the promise of public education. Educators, not politicians, should guide us. When they create fear and distrust of authority and experts, they divide us. If they succeed at making people believe that public schools exist for only one political ideology, they divide us. We must not allow this to happen. We must unite.
Our work to support public education is vital now more than ever. ICPE needs you to get ten of your friends to join us now on our tenth anniversary. We need you to help us form more chapters around the state and to develop relationships with your legislators so that we can keep public education in public hands with public funds for all children. The future of our country depends on the success of our public schools."