Hartford · In the State

A Parent Reflects On Fredrick Douglas’ Fourth of July Speech: Gwen Samuel Calls Out Status Quo For Their Silence

I wanted to share with my readers a recent blog post published by parent advocate Gwen Samuel. (If you haven’t already, you should check out her other blog posts too – she writes at RealTalkGwenSamuels.com)

In her most recent post, she reflects on Fredrick Douglas’ famous July Fourth speech, “What To The Slave Is The Fourth Of July,” explaining why she decided to stay woke this Independence day: 

While many were celebrating the 4th of July with hamburgers, hotdogs, fireworks and good ole fashioned apple pie, I was rereading Frederick Douglass’ speech of July 5, 1852, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” and applying it to the state of education for Black, brown and poor children in America.

You might ask why wasn’t I out celebrating the 4th today. And all I can say is it’s because the status quo protectors and oppressors #StayWoke too. They don’t take a day off.

The status quo protectors/oppressors are the ones who make a living off the backs of the oppressed!

They see price tags on the lives of our Black, brown, and poor children and we all know they will do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to “keep” failing schools open for business.

Every day parents, mostly of color and the poor, must face the reality that many of their own children are trapped in schools that cannot and in many cases, will not treat their children fairly nor equitably educate them.

Let us be very clear. The status quo folk plan our oppression daily – even on holidays – to deny our children of color and the poor equitable access to safe and quality schools.

The status quo folk plan our oppression daily – even on holidays– to deny parents their right to choose the best educational opportunity for their children.

So, as a black mom, I choose to #StayWokestay engaged and plan daily – even on holidays– so that I can fight back effectively against injustice.

I plan daily to educate, empower, and mobilize those of like hearts and minds to help keep the many #Freedoms that so many of my ancestors bled for and were lynched and died for. I plan daily to protect the most vulnerable of our village.

Why? Because one thing is for certain; The status quo “Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Good Thing I Did Decide To #StayWoke!

And after reading what the NEA (National Education Association) was up to over the holiday, boy was I right to stay engaged. While I wasn’t surprised, I did grow weary when I read the July 3rd article from USA Today entitled Teachers’ union considers hard line on charter schools.This article outlines the NEA’s new policy on charter schools and it’s clearly meant to misguide parents.

This hugely powerful organization that mostly protects adults over students plans to work against parents that choose to educate and keep their children safe by exercising parent/school choice for their babies. And for the life of me, I do not understand how other people’s family choices about school models become the NEA’s business!

Politico’s Morning Education email blast states “TEACHERS UNION ADOPTS NEW POSITION ON CHARTER SCHOOLS: As anticipated, the National Education Association on Tuesday adopted a tougher stance on charter schools. The roughly 7,000 delegates at the NEA annual meeting in Boston voted to approve a statement that is more forceful and direct in outlining its concerns with charter schools. The statement calls for the schools to be authorized by local school boards, demonstrate they’re helping to improve the local public-school system, and comply with the same rules and laws as public schools.”

The NEA Teacher Unions are demanding Charters be held accountable to outcomes yet the Teacher Unions push back against any measure to evaluate their members performance – talk about double standards!

For the record, Connecticut parents of color and the poor want both NEA/CEA and AFT teacher unions to apply this same policy statements of accountability about Charters, to themselves and all school models.

The bottom line is absolutely very clear. These babies are OUR Children so the educational vehicle needed to help shape their lives is OUR Choice! Why? Because the history of America has shown us that the status quo will only educate certain children in certain zip codes!

In addition, we parents call out another pot calling the kettle black moment of NEA. The hypocrisy of the NEA is almost too much to take – it knows no bounds.

So, where was NEA’s policy statement against hiding child abuse at the hands of school employees in traditional public schools? Don’t worry I’ll wait for the response. I just won’t hold my breath!

What makes the NEA so very hypocritical is that for the last several years they have been silent as their Connecticut affiliate, the Connecticut Education Association(CEA), has tried to pass several legislative bills that would protect school employees with a pattern of alleged child abuse.

The NEA and CEA was silent in 2010 when the Connecticut Attorney General raised the alarm about child abuse and again in 2017 when the nonpartisan Office of the Child Advocate issued a similar report regarding school employees not reporting abuse and neglect at the hands of other school employees even though they are mandated reporters by law! Neighboring Rhode Island just had two cases in recent months where mandatory reporters failed to comply with the law too.

Despite status quo stereotypes about parents (especially of color and the low-income), parents have the right to choose the best educational opportunity for their children – especially when schools in America have a documented history of not treating all children equitably and just.

We as parents should not blindly trust anything the status quo says, until we research it for ourselves, especially after we’ve seen them stay silent and turn their backs on children that are abused, neglected, bullied and discriminated against when they go to school.

So Lily Eskelsen Garcia and the NEA, and for this matter, you too, Randi Weingarten and the AFT, it’s time for you to clean your own house and make better choices about protecting and educating the children, you get paid to serve, before you judge parents’ choices about how they want to educate their children – keywords – their children.

Please stop focusing on school models and start focusing on fiscal and personnel responsibility and what’s happening to all children during the school day.

In addition, stop intimidating the teachers and administrators that want to work directly with parents and community to ensure equity in education!

And for the record, Lily and Randi, education is not about you anyway, the teacher union leadership. It is about the students and effective teachers in every classroom working together to ensure BOTH are successful.

Parents and community are here, as a check and balance, to ensure safety, academic and life success happens for our babies!

Please note: parents are changing the rules of the game in education to ensure the safety, education and overall wellbeing of our children–and all children.  And as the song says “if you don’t know, now you know”



Gwen Samuel is a Meriden parent and the founder of the Connecticut Parents Union. Originally posted on her blog RealTalkGwenSamuel.com, Education Connecticut reposted this piece with permission from the author. 

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