Don’t Touch Education.
You can make a fool of yourself.
You can say Mexicans are rapists. You can call blacks criminals. You can accuse us, immigrants, of taking away your jobs. You can go on TV and pretend you’re amazing, you can sit in the White House and pretend you deserve it. We will defend basic civil rights. And I’m comforted by that fact. (Thanks sensible people.)
But don’t touch education. Don’t touch students, or teachers, or the places and means by which we choose to educate and empower our next generation. When you attack our rights to feel at home where we learn to become better citizens, you actively dismantle the cornerstones of the future of America you apparently are working to protect.
And let’s make it clear: transgender public bathrooms is an education issue, and transgender public accommodations in general is a civil rights issue. I’m not going to beat a dead horse and explain Title IX here, because many people do a much better job at it than I. Many people, by the way, who are doing a better job of leading the country than you are.
Although I’m an advocate for a gender-blind legal system and equity for all people on gender identity, I’m going to present a different argument here — an education argument, and an argument about our future.
Stop worrying about the controversial history this nation has in dealing with diversity for a second. Let’s talk about schools.
The right to high-quality education isn’t quantifiable or measurable in a mandate. You can’t just hand a student a bag of expensive textbooks and call it a day. Like the colloquially referenced right to the “pursuit of happiness,” the right to education is not a grant from the government, but a promise. Like the promise of the Pursuit, it’s a promise of opportunity and of future. When you want to give a student a quality education, you’re not just worried about standardized test scores or extracurriculars or segregation or language barriers, no. You’re also worried about their mental health, their social health, their self-image, their confidence, their career path, their aspirations, their teachers, their lunch, … and I can go on for a thousand more words.
My point is, education is a nebulous concept you can’t ensure to every student without making sure at every single step of a political decision process that, if you were a student today, you would feel confident, comfortable, and interested — if not necessarily thrilled — to go to school every day. The right to a quality, respectful education system is not something you tag onto the end of another discussion or a matter you settle by paying a bunch of low-grade start-ups to experiment on kids with their future. Education is the cornerstone on which we build our next generation, and it is the legacy of this generation. Our schools are not just a place we go to read and get lectured at; schools are, for lack of a better word, our second homes. It’s where we learn about our communities and the world, and how the whole mess holds together without completely falling apart (so far).
And by destroying one of the most basic protections a student can have — their reassurance of identity and belonging — you deny them the ability to feel right. You deny them what they not only deserve, but absolutely need to learn and grow as an effective citizen. You deny them their selves, and thereby their motivation.
Let me say it again: as frequent battlefields for political banter, schools might not feel all that critical to our nation. But let me submit to you that if our bridges and roads are the infrastructure of our community today, our schools are the infrastructure on which we build our tomorrow. They are the first places that students — both born-here and immigrant — come to reach again and again for that American Dream they were promised.
And that’s why attacks on education, on schools, and on students have me so concerned that I’m writing this ten minutes before I ride off for a flight — because denying a person their feeling of belonging is one thing, but denying a student their identity and their right to feel save and loved in schools is quite another.
As educators and policymakers, we tread on the dreams of the students we serve. We must tread lightly.