I guess I struck a nerve

Published On: Mar 22 2013 02:07:21 PM CDT

In my last column, I wrote that Madison’s elite, white liberal progressive community has done the most damage to folks of color. Since then, I’ve been called everything from anti-union and anti-teacher to a conservative, a member of the tea party, and a friend to those who seek to profit from privatizing public schools.

Nonsense.

Allow me to set the record straight: I meant every single word of what I wrote. If you’ve paid any attention to who has been the dominant political party in the city of Madison and Dane County for decades, you would know that they have been liberal and progressives. If conservatives had been running this city with the same results, I would have written the same.

I am not anti-teacher. Why would I be? They are in the trenches with our kids every single day. It is a tough and thankless job, especially over the last few years. I appreciate and respect the work they do. Bashing them doesn’t accomplish anything. They need our support.

Public schools serve a vital role in communities. Our focus should be on making them as strong and as viable as possible. The last thing we should do is deplete them of funds every year. At the same time, I also believe in other options and alternatives, especially when we’re dealing with a nagging achievement gap.

That doesn’t mean that I support vouchers, but I feel that there needs to be no stone unturned when it comes to ideas to make sure that all of our students have the opportunity to succeed.

I’m not a card-carrying member of any political party, and I probably will never be. Many folks are capable of bringing good ideas to the table, regardless of party affiliation. The topic of education is too important to not listen to some that we may not completely agree with. That’s what makes the whole Sarah Manski affair so maddening. Some of the local political and community establishment are so focused on keeping their clique in control and in power, they are willing to shut out voices that can bring different experiences and perspectives to the table.

That’s why so many are upset, most notably communities of color.

For years, many ignored the achievement gap in Madison. It has consistently flown under the radar, hidden behind all the accolades about how livable and wonderful our city is. But teachers knew there was a problem.

The United Way of Dane County, the Urban League of Greater Madison, the Boys and Girls Club, John Odom, Betty Franklin Hammonds, 100 Black Men of Madison and a host of others knew there was a problem. They all tried to tell anyone who had power, influence and ability to help address it and warned that not doing so could result in serious issues down the road. 

Despite the efforts of a few who truly understood what was at stake, it mostly fell on deaf ears. That is, until a small public charter school was proposed.

Where do we go from here? Opening our eyes and ears, listening to one another and understanding that there are many folks whose ideas have merit would be a great start. Putting our egos aside and our we-know-what’s-best-for-you attitudes would be another. Hearing from the students themselves, from the ones that are struggling to the ones that are doing well, would serve us well.

Finally, we need to come to an understanding that despite our differences, kids come first.

That’s what all of this is supposed to be about, isn’t it?