Bernie Sanders and The Inclusive Vision for Public Schools #EduColor

Jose Vilson Jose

The electoral politic has brought up some revelations. For one, it only takes a couple of “outsider” candidates to reveal the people who otherwise felt disenchanted by the federal government. While I won’t mention the other guy on the so-called right, I’m intrigued by the idea of Senator Bernie Sanders. It’s easy to be enamored by his progressive agenda: going after the big banks, focusing on Main St., and bolstering the social safety net for everyone. This class-focused lens sounds promising, especially in the ways that race and class often go hand-in-hand.

Yet, according to this Nation study, we need to revisit how we address this intersection and why that matters.

The raging question in the Democratic umbrella – of which I am not a part – is “Who does more for people of color?” The same goes in education. I’ve had ed-techers, ed-reformers, and ed-activists convene under critiques against my approach to this work. The racial lens specifically hit a nerve as I’ve nudged (and shoved) so many others to actually work on creating better allegiances. This was met on numerous occasions with charges of jealousy, divisiveness, and – the worst offense of all – BS. Please. 

(Side note: when Education Week reported on EduColor, one of the first tweets I saw was whether we were funded by nefarious billionaires. Unbossed. Unbought. Run off the backs of volunteers. Know this.)

Worse still is when these conversations happen in person without much provocation. Yesterday at #SXSWedu, Medium’s Gabe Kleinman moderated a panel with me, American Federation of Teachers’ president Randi Weingarten, and American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Hess. Knowing what we know about Mr. Hess, I fully expected the ultra-conservative ethos to come to full fruition, and the conversation did not disappoint. What originally started as a conversation around teacher voice became a full-on discussion on racial and social justice and its implications in public schools.

Also, never underestimate the stamina and wit of a public school math teacher with 150 students a day.

As the conversation went back and forth, it became evident that what could have turned into a moan-fest turned into a golden opportunity to speak to the vision of EduColor. Two of the panelists called the group doing the most relevant work of our time. That meant a lot, but that only comes from the work we do. Being intentional means sitting on a panel, listening to thinly-veiled racism and sexism, openly dismissing it as such, and redirecting the conversation towards true solidarity. It’s about having a new set of people you’ve neither seen or met before hear you speak and, instead of perpetuating the nonsense, you take the stance of hope, encouragement, and critical love.

You also find ways to follow the ancestors’ call for focus.

In the meantime, we would do well to insist on these intersectional conversations. Those with the most at-stake and who’ve been most disenfranchised would be the best people to tell us how to re-work our public education system. Until we get to that point, we must never let up on our advocacy. Our schools must address our students’ needs, especially for those who don’t feel like they’re getting addressed at all, regardless of who’s president. Our activism shouldn’t be centered on one event, one debate, or one campaign, but on the enduring principles of a sustainable, equitable, public education.

It’s not just one leader, either. It’s many of us. Join in.