After what happened last night at Elizabeth Warren’s rally in Atlanta, Democrats might want to reconsider their strategy of attacking school choice. Black and brown parents, some who have been fighting chronically failing schools locally for decades, have had enough.
A group of hundreds of mostly black parents—and grandparents and great grandparents—descended on Atlanta the day of the debate and stayed through Elizabeth Warren’s rally at Clark Atlanta University. They started a GoFundMe a week ago in the hope that they could be there to demonstrate outside the debate and then try to get a word with Elizabeth Warren about her education plan. I proudly donated $100 to the cause. They chose the name Powerful Parent Network and their own hashtag, #Choice4ENot4Me. (I presume the E stands for Elizabeth but I’m not sure.) Some in the group have been to every Democratic debate, bringing the message that Warren and others better “back down” in their attacks on charter schools and parent choice. They have been clear that they support any and all kinds of schools that are high quality and work for kids:
I am a white suburban mother of means, and I already have a major problem with what I see as a double standard in how the events at the rally are being covered and tweeted about by some in the media. The condescension that drips from journalists who think the parents just don’t really understand Warren’s policy is not new, but it certainly illustrates the chasm between elite progressive journalists and parents. It doesn’t matter whether Elizabeth Warren can actually do all that is in her education plan; what matters is that black parents are offended by her rhetoric that is hostile to their self-determination and agency to make educational decisions for their children—especially when their babies and grandbabies have been zoned to chronically failing schools for generations. Yes, generations.
Did any of these reporters attend schools that had single-digit reading and math proficiency for decades? Do any of them plan to enroll their own children in schools where under 10 percent of black boys read on grade level? Would any of them leave their child in a neighborhood school where they were relentlessly bullied, miserable every single day, or a witness to gang violence on a regular basis?
No. They wouldn’t.
Last time I checked, when a bunch of white affluent parents descend on a school board meeting, nobody accuses them of not knowing what’s best for their children or implies that they are ignorant about their cause. On the contrary, these parents often get exactly what they want. Elected officials see them as powerful and influential, and they act accordingly. Black parents know that the Democrats take their votes for granted and don’t see them as a threat when they mobilize over a policy or platform that troubles them.
Everyone has a breaking point, and the parents who came from all over the country to be heard outside the debate in Atlanta and at the Elizabeth Warren rally have reached theirs. And who can blame them? They see a state of emergency when it comes to their children and grandchildren—and they feel alone because the people in positions of power do not feel that sense of emergency and crisis. On the contrary, the same candidates who rail against federal funding for charter schools and want to eliminate all other forms of school choice for low-income families exercised choice for their own children; maybe they bought a house in a neighborhood with good schools, or maybe, like Elizabeth Warren, they paid for a private school. The parents who travelled to Atlanta can’t afford to pay for private school. They need access to higher quality options that are free—the same kind of access enjoyed by those who can purchase homes in neighborhoods with good and safe schools.
Contrary to much of the media reporting, these parents are agnostic about what kind of school a parent chooses. Yes, they support charter schools. But they also support every other kind of school that provides a quality education for children who look like theirs. They want an escape hatch from schools where kids aren’t learning and buildings are falling down. And they do not want to be told by anyone—especially a white progressive who says she cares about them—which choices they can and can’t make for their children.
It is quintessential racism for anyone to caricature these poor parents of color as ill-informed or paid actors who somehow don’t deserve to have the same self-determination for their children that white parents of means largely take for granted. It is hardly “progressive” for any candidate to deny educational freedom to poor parents and to force them into schools that would never be good enough for their own children.
Parents who have felt powerless and ignored are fighting back. Let’s hope the candidates are ready to listen.
Editor’s note: This essay was first published by Project Forever Free.