One hot day in May, I chaperoned my son’s 5th grade class on a field trip to the Texas State Capitol. We toured the grounds, and then a docent led us around the building. As we were standing on the famed Senate floor, the docent asked the students if they had any questions. One of my son’s classmates, who was hearing impaired, asked, “Can I do this job? Can I be a Senator even though I am hearing impaired?” The docent, without skipping a beat, explained that if you can be elected, then you can be a Representative, a Senator, or even the Governor. She then gave numerous examples of our past and current elected officials who also had some type of disability.
After the tour, the group headed outside for lunch, but I was still thinking about the importance of what had just happened on the Senate floor. You see, it would have never occurred to my son that he could not have the job of Senator. His view of the future was all about possibilities. If he wanted to run for office, he’d run for office. Later that day, he and I talked about how hearing his classmate ask that question enabled the rest of the students to see the world from his point of view. It created empathy in them.
I am not sure if my son has ever really thought about that day since, but I have. It had a profound impact on me because it was a tangible example of why I think that public education is so vital to our communities. My son (and my daughters) have been in classes with kids who have physical and learning disabilities, as well as kids of different races, socioeconomic backgrounds and religions. They’ve had times where they’ve struggled and had to work hard to overcome some challenges, and other times when they’ve thrived. They are learning how to interact and work with their neighbors who may or may not be similar to them. I like to think that they are becoming well-rounded, balanced humans.
I know this to be true because it’s my own story too. I grew up in a small East Texas town where there were three elementary schools that funneled into one middle and high school. One of the elementary schools was in a wealthy neighborhood close to the university and the other two schools were located in poorer neighborhoods on the other side of town. I was zoned to be bussed across town to one of the poorer schools. My parents, both educators in the district, could have transferred me into the “nicer” school, but they decided it was best for me to stay enrolled in my zoned school.
As I look back on my life, I am grateful for so many things my parents did for me, but at the top of the list is that I was able to attend Carpenter Elementary. I was taught by the most amazing teachers and made incredible friends there. I fondly remember Halloween costume parades, field trips to the Texas Oil Museum, and holding the prestigious leadership role of “library assistant.” I performed in a school play directed by the most wonderful music teacher. But most importantly, I experienced all of these things surrounded by incredibly diverse classmates and teachers. I didn’t realize how rare it was to have an African American female principal in the 1980s!
Through my experiences, both as a child and with my own children, I have seen firsthand the invaluable worth and goodness that takes place within the walls of our public schools. At their best, they provide safe places to learn how to find common ground despite our rivers of difference. Our public schools are the heartbeats of our neighborhoods where our kids learn to live in community with one another. They deserve our very best effort of advocacy and support in return.
Do you live in Texas?
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Our public schools are the heart of our communities. They are the place where our children can find common ground, regardless of their differences. Adequately fund them and stop the expansion of charter chains in our state. Thank you.