The election of Donald Trump has evoked pain and emotion for so many. I read their blog posts. I watch them protest. I see their tears.
And yet living and breathing in a Black and female body in America, I feel numb. My inner thoughts tell me not much will change.
We have always struggled for equality, for our voice to be heard, for a seat at the table. And the struggle continues.
I have no hope that a Trump administration will have any will to invest in education for all students. After what I’ve seen from the history of our country’s treatment of Black people, of the direction Trump’s party wants to go, of the profound record of educational injustice that exists even just in my city of Oakland, I expect nothing.
Right now I’m numb.
But I feel something else coming. That tingle. That urge to be awake in the face of profound injustice.
We know that it is better to struggle than to be numb. We know not to be depressed. Not to give up. We know there is no more important time to be woke.
Now we rise up.
The Year of Hope and Change
I’m fortunate enough to have learned the struggle in 2008, working shoulder-to-shoulder with Obama for America. I was running for Oakland School Board, and I was building a ground game by getting the word out about hope and change for a school district that was coming out from under the grips of state control.
Obama’s 2008 campaign politicized a new generation of the civil rights movement. A hip-hop generation was spreading the message that was raising the money and securing the votes to elect our first Black president.
And educational justice was a centerpiece of Obama’s message. He came from Chicago, where future education secretary Arne Duncan led a movement to provide quality public schools to all children, by any means necessary. Where charter schools were shifting the deficit narrative of Black men as an endangered species to one where Black boys were brilliant. Where efforts to turnaround struggling schools were showing that we were going to hold our public schools accountable for educating all kids.
Once in Washington, they took America and the status quo by storm. The need to reform was inspiring leaders across the 50 states to consider real accountability for learning and a common set of high standards for America’s children.
Race to the Top took it further by providing even more financial incentives for reform. But for me the question was never how will you compete for the money. It was how will you compete for the educational lives of children who are consistently sentenced to the bottom 5 percent of schools? Will you bring your best team and your best thinking? Are you willing to put politics aside and rethink how we educate the children who have been disenfranchised for generations?
In Oakland, we were right there, pushing and redefining ourselves, inspired by our new national leaders.
You had Secretary Duncan using his position to talk about class and race and the school-to-prison pipeline. The Department of Education awakened the Office of Civil Rights from its dormant state, and suddenly you had a Black woman attorney, Russlynn Ali, leading the effort to look at civil rights violations state by state and school district by school district.
I don’t know all the details of how the department was run, but I had full trust that there was a president who cared enough about children and communities, both rural and urban, to lift up America’s most precious resource.
A Lack of Trust
I do not have the same trust when it comes to our president-elect.
From him I have only heard clueless and uninformed ramblings about taking away the Common Core standards, which shows he doesn’t even understand the basics of the federal role in education. Clearly, he never even got the Cliffs Notes version of ESEA.
If he did, then he would probably be happy to learn that we education reformers basically let states off the hook when writing the newest version of our country’s education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The federal government has a lot less ability to hold states accountable for providing an equitable education to all kids. States have a lot more leeway to just keep things the same and demonstrate harmful bias against students.
Maybe some states will work to fully educate their students. But I’m certain a Trump administration won’t even begin to hold them accountable. Hell, it’s rumored that he wants to abolish the education department altogether. And when states are left to their own devices, we know what happens—poor children, children of color, and children who don’t speak English as a first language will be even less protected and possibly invisible.
So now that we won’t have that great leadership in Washington, we have to find it in ourselves and in our communities to rise up as strong advocates demanding educational justice as a priority.
We benefited from a presidential administration that showed up unapologetic for our most vulnerable youth. Now we must find it in ourselves. It’s our job to listen to that tingle of resistance. That urge to join the struggle.
Now is no time to feel numb. It’s a time to rise up.