When school started this year in Mississippi, a child went to kindergarten on a Tuesday. Just imagine how excited and nervous she must have felt to meet her new teacher, to sit at a table with new friends, to take the first steps on this awesome adventure in education—and how proud and nervous her parents felt, too.
On Wednesday, during the second day of school, maybe while the 5-year-olds were working hard on their “All About Me” worksheets, the child’s parent was taken away by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
What do you imagine the new teacher said on Thursday? I know what I would have said: “You belong here. You’re safe here.” And how much we wish that to be true.
On that particular day, during raids at food processing plants in small towns across Mississippi, about 680 people were taken away. School officials in Scott County know many were parents of their students. They advised school bus drivers to make “visual contact” with a parent or guardian before dropping off a child, so that children wouldn’t go home to empty homes.
What we are seeing is unimaginable on many levels. The cruelty of separating families. The senseless fear and trauma experienced by thousands of children that will impact them for the rest of their lives. But the most unimaginable for me is that this is being done by our government intentionally. Callously. Cruelly.
I believe that what happened in Mississippi on the second day of school, and what has happened during arrests or raids in Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, and across the U.S., and especially what is happening at our southern border to families seeking refuge, is heartless, cruel, and against everything that the United States, a nation of hard-working immigrants, stands for.
Putting that aside: These immigration policies also deeply affect the work of educators. After ICE departs, with our students’ parents in handcuffs, educators still have their children in our classrooms. We still must teach that kindergartner to read. It’s our job now to make them feel safe, and supported, and loved—so that they can learn.
The job is more difficult, of course, when children are traumatized. We know the effects of trauma on the brain’s ability to learn.
Recently, the White House’s acting director of immigration services, Ken Cuccinelli, offered a rewrite of Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet,” he told a CNN reporter. And then he said, oh, that poem is just about “Europeans” anyway.
I’m struck by the difference between Cuccinelli’s attitude—and the reality of public school educators. We take the children who can’t stand. We take the children who struggle to learn. We take the children who aren’t “Europeans.” And we love them, we teach them, we make them ready to succeed in our increasingly diverse world.
I don’t like what happened in Mississippi to that little kindergartner who was so full of joy on a Tuesday, and so scared and ashamed on a Wednesday. I am sad, I am angry, and I am so ready to fight.
We have an opportunity to defend our values, as public school educators, over the next year. November 3, 2020 is around the corner, and I will be working hard until that day to elect candidates who share my concern for all children and educators. A good place to start is strongpublicschools.org.
I hope you will join me there.