By Becky Pringle,
For more than forty years, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) has been one of the critical levers helping to close the gap between the ideals we all stand for and the experience of our most vulnerable.
The CBCF’s work through the Education Brain Trusts to meet the needs of the whole child is also critically important as we are working toward ESSA implementation to close the access, opportunity, and achievement gaps and address the education needs of under-served students.
If our goal is for every student to be successful, we must ensure that we provide them with all the supports they need to develop emotionally, academically, morally; they must be healthy in mind, body, and spirit; they must be recognized for the unique and beautiful people they are; they must be challenged and supported and celebrated. We must embrace all of them – every aspect of their humanity. That’s what educating the whole child is about. And it’s why the NEA is excited about partnering with the CBCF to make it so.
WEB DuBois said, “Of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for 5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental. The freedom to learn has been bought by bitter sacrifice. And whatever we might think of the curtailment of other civil rights, we should fight to the last ditch to keep open the right to learn.”
Those compelling words are a powerful reminder of the magnitude of our responsibility to enable all children to fulfill their potential as empowered individuals, constructive members of their communities, productive participants in the economy, and engaged citizens of the United States and the world.
When President Obama signed ESSA in to law, it ushered in a new era with a new accountability system that has the promise to create shared responsibility for the success of all students.
This new law requires collaboration throughout the system, and recognizes our collective responsibility to promote opportunity, equity and excellence for every one of our students. And if we really mean every, we must work to guarantee racial justice in education.
That’s why 8,000 delegates to our convention last year voted to commit NEA to lead in acknowledging, spotlighting, and addressing the societal patterns and practices of institutional racism that impose oppressive conditions and deny rights, opportunity, and equality based on race. We understand it is our responsibility to take on this systemic and insidious reality that is at the heart of inequity and injustice.
There’s just no excuse why some children in America don’t have what they need so they can learn; why they don’t have the security of knowing their basic human rights are protected so they can live; why they don’t have a support system that sees their humanity so they can thrive.
There are those who think income inequality in this country is morally defendable; that the opportunity and access gaps that exist for far too many students won’t bring this nation to its knees. But it will.
We know that we are but one part of a complex system of organizations, institutions, individuals, and policies that produce the many factors that interact to create and perpetuate the social, economic, and political realities that are harmful to not only people of color, but our society as a whole. As educators, we have no choice but to lead.
Former National Teacher of the Year, Kim Oliver, posed this profound question: Are you worthy of our students? As she went on to describe the precious lives, the beautiful children’s future we have in our hands, we understood the urgency and passion with which she asked us. She challenged us to have courageous conversations about the role we should and must play – in our schools and our communities.
We cannot say we are worthy of our children as long as inequity, fear, and injustice exists in our society. We cannot answer Kim’s question “yes” as long as one child feels they are not valued and respected for who they are.
But I have no doubt. With the powerful, dedicated, tenacious folks working to take on these challenges, we will be worthy of our students. I have no doubt that we will never give up, we will never give in, we will do what we know is right so that every one of our children can live into their brilliance and take their rightful place as happy and productive members of this great society.