When I was diagnosed with ALS, it was hard going public. Instead of embarking on a second career in law and policy advocacy, I had to figure out how to tell people that I am dying – you know, faster than most people.
I appreciate that social media has permitted me to follow both the small and grand escapades of many former students, long-time friends, long-lost friends, and inspiring new colleagues & political compatriots. Also, the thought of individually telling so many people seemed daunting, and I worried about how would I keep straight what information I had shared with whom.
So after informing the people in my innermost circles, I decided to announce my diagnosis very deliberately on Facebook – to be as candid, informative, and reassuring as I could be. The response has been a very surprising, very public, and very gratifying whirlwind of generosity! So, so, so many people have asked to be part of realizing my desire to take 32 “at-risk” high school students to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. So here’s how to contribute.
The North Carolina Foundation for Public School Children is acting as the fiscal agent for the project entitled Writing Wrongs: Student Voices for Justice. You can read all about the project and donate here. And I’ll be deeply grateful. Moreover, I can honestly say that as I face the daily, increasing difficulty with walking, I am comforted and meaningfully encouraged when I look forward to this trip and this project with these kids. Thank you.
But in addition to asking for help funding this project – one I deem to be a truly worthwhile cause in its discreet form – I want to be candid about the broader issue . . . the question at the core of all the major debates raging in our country:
What will be our top priority: the advancement of our ideals or the advancement of our economy?
We can advance both. And we definitely should.
( One of my favorite remarks from Diane Ravitch – and you hear the same message from Pasi Sahlberg here – is: “You aim for equity and you get excellence.” She delivers this line and much more to Bill Moyers here.)
But when pressed, which will we subordinate to the other?
Will we determinedly insist upon justice and true democracy and trust that innovation and competition can survive? Or will we elevate competition, codify privilege and advantage (in campaign finance, contracts of adhesion, and unequal access to education), and embrace social Darwinism? (For you Bible buffs, Matthew 6:19-21 also speaks to this quandry.)
We force our public school students to declare in the pledge that we are a nation “with liberty and justice for all.” The message on the Statue of Liberty purports to welcome the “tired” and “poor” – the “huddled masses.” We love to think of ourselves as a country in which all are truly “created equal” and have equal opportunity from birth.
Unfortunately, the reality is that there is neither liberty nor justice for all (you should go to law school if you don’t want to take my word for it), immigrants face legal and social hostilities (whether documented or undocumented), and “equal opportunity” is a story that the privileged among us (us . . .I am including myself here and this Brian Andreas story is all too true: “I’m much better at the brotherhood of man thing, he said, when I can afford to live in a good neighborhood.”) use to comfort ourselves – to justify our enjoyment of our privilege without having to face, and thus to spend time, energy, and money sorting out, the savage inequities in our society – the prejudices and poverty into which many children are born, not because their parents are unworthy people but because the playing field is decidedly uneven. (As a dear friend recently put it: “We are born on third base, but prefer to believe we hit a triple.”)
But friends, the field is patently uneven, and most of us owe more to the lottery of our birth than we attribute to it. It’s so hard to take the limited time that most of us find to enjoy our lives and families and instead to devote our resources to making the field fairer for others. I get it, but I feel it’s what we ought to try to do. Moreover, I rather passionately agree with this powerful little Colbert master-ditty.
So if you contribute, I want you to understand that you are giving not to a mere museum visit for some at-risk teens; this trip is intended to be part of a movement, a catalyst for the empowerment and inclusion of voices in our society the messages of which some among us might be uncomfortable hearing.
If I had normal life expectancy, promoting equitable and excellent public education – “choice” and “21st-century skills” for EVERY child in this, the richest country on earth – would be at the core of everything I did.
But I will not get to dedicate the years I had hoped, so this trip . . . it’s me passing the torch. For the more cynical among you, you can envision me throwing a sort of ideological Hail Mary. But I genuinely believe what Margaret Mead so famously said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
In the groups emerging/continuing to contest growing inequity/injustice (Common Cause, Rootstrikers, Public Campaign, Public Justice and Public Citizen – and their state-level counterparts) and in the surging movement to combat the market-based education reform agenda (The Network for Public Education and dozens of state-based organizations, like our own Public Schools First, NC), I find great hope.
And if we keep teaching the great truths – keep inspiring and enabling the voices of our youth – education will save us all.
That’s why this trip.
So please, contribute. But don’t for one moment be mistaken about what you are enabling.
As I face the fact that I will probably not be able to walk through the museum this May on my own power, I take solace in the possibility of this project not being a mere outing, but becoming a tangible step in the advancement of my personal agenda, as articulated by Nelson Mandela:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
I thought you should know that your money will be used to buy arms.