With apologies to Dr. King, today I want to tell you that I have a dream.
My son doesn’t want me to riff on this theme. He thinks it’s disrespectful to one of the greatest American orations. Perhaps he’s right. I’m no orator, no leader. I’m a fool with a vision.
I walked with the boycotters on Wednesday, and came away with longing for an alternate reality. Right now, in this city, with regard to our children, hopes and dreams are the things we have. We do not have a reality that we can be satisfied with. We have a reality which requires work, anger, and a great deal of trust in one another, we citizens in our anemic Chicago democracy. Our reality requires dreams. Maybe yours are the same as mine.
I dream that someday our nation will care more about education than it does about debating the vulgarity of vacuous entertainers.
I dream that teachers at every level will be respected for carrying out their honorable work. They, who educate the people who will receive the stewardship of our fragile democracy and shepherd it into the future. They who create critical thinkers, nourish American creativity, and introduce kids from every walk of life to all of life’s possibilities. I dream that someday, no one will ever resent teachers, call them lazy, or undervalue them, for their work is profound.
I dream that someday, kids will be valued in our nation for more than their test scores, for more than their use as an inaccurate barometer determining whether a school should be closed or a teacher should be fired.
I dream of a future in which kids of many different abilities can find a meaningful place to plug into our schools and then our society, and lend us their gifts for awhile.
I dream that someday, 1 in 5 of children will not be limited by the crushing constraints of poverty–the second highest percentage of any developed nation in the world, and growing higher. I dream that poverty will not mandate children being stuck in underfunded schools whose main purpose is to be a failing school. I dream that poverty will not declare that the logical alternative to failing disinvested public schools is militaristic charters where no middle class parents would ever choose to send their children.
I dream that someday, any kid who wants to can go to college. And yet I also dream that not all kids are expected to gain a four-year, liberal arts degree that they do not want, cannot use, and will be paying for for decades. I dream that those who do not pursue college are not considered lesser citizens.
I dream of a time when “education reform” does not mean closing schools and firing teachers, does not mean entrusting an untrained temporary workforce with our most precious commodity, does not involve “ripping off bandaids” and “creating chaos” and “disrupting the system.” I dream of a time when reformers make decisions based on children, not profit potential.
I dream of a time when children are not given between 15 and 25 standardized tests annually to determine how well they do on tests. I dream of a time when dyslexic children or others with learning challenges don’t have to face these tests at all.
I dream of a time when those entrusted with overseeing our urban educational systems know the first thing about children, about teaching, about teachers, about pedagogy, about child development, about anything, anything at all that has to do with educating children.
I dream of a time when mayors do not plow over libraries and replace them with astroturf soccer fields that the community did not ask for and does not want.
I dream of a time when elected officials serve their constituents rather than betray their trust.
I dream of a time when the voice of the people is heard and respected, understood not to be a mob but a thoughtful citizenry, and given some small heed when it comes to policy-making about our own children.
I dream of a time when leadership does not mean arrogance, and stewardship does not mean heedlessness, and a public school system can be something other than educational apartheid.
Forgive my presumption in having a dream, many dreams. Yet I hope you can join me in them. We have so much work to do.
The image above is of a giant quilt handmade by the 6th grade students and former librarian of Ray School, Leslie Travis, for Black History Month in 2012. It features their dreams.
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