I love Valentine's Day. I remember the parties we had when I was in elementary school and the joy of opening each of my little valentines at home to see what treasures my classmates had given me. The candy hearts with sayings, the chocolate and the special cards are still vivid in my mind. In second grade, Joey, my crush, underlined the word 'not' on his card: "It's not puppy love, Valentine!" (Did that might mean he like-liked me? Or not at all? ) But I also remember making the biggest valentine for my teacher, Ms. Drake, whom I adored.
Ms. Drake was my favorite teacher. I loved her. I loved her huge afro and her big gold hoop earrings. I loved her platform shoes and pantsuits (yes, I'm old. It was around 1975) and, above all, I loved what I learned in second grade. Ms. Drake taught us that women had to fight like heck to get the right to vote. She taught us that "Ms." was a neutral title and that men didn't have any such titles to show their marital status. I remember being incredulous that women hadn't been able to vote before 1920. I knew it was different to be a girl already. I knew boys were supposed to be stronger and tougher. I rejected all of that and was hearing about ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) from my mom, a League of Women Voters leader, at home. But I didn't feel connected to Susan B. Anthony until that year.
Ms. Drake, an African-American, also taught us about the Civil Rights movement. I learned about Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and I distinctly remember learning about Dr. Charles R. Drew, the African American surgeon who pioneered saving lives with blood plasma and, legend then had it, died of blood loss after a car accident because he was black and wasn't allowed in the white hospital. I remember the horrible injustice of the history I was learning. But what Ms. Drake taught was not just the untold (particularly back then) history of the United States' people seeking equal rights; it was her inspiration that stayed with me.
Empowered by the love and confidence Ms. Drake gave to me, I was determined that year to become the first woman president of the United States. I asked my mom to give me jobs with the League of Women Voters so that I could become more politically active. I had my grandfather buy me thick children's history books in the used book store because I knew I would have to learn a lot to be smart enough to be president. And I wrote my inauguration speech which I still have somewhere in a scrapbook. I think it was a nearly-plagiarized version of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.
To be sure, there are other significant memories I have of that year. For instance, I spent much of my second grade days doing my work sitting in the corner. I was a talker. Unfortunately for Ms. Drake, I was a talking-out-of-turn talker and her discipline sometimes included creating new corners with bulletin boards on wheels for me and my social friends. I don't remember feeling humiliation or shame, however. (Perhaps if I had, I might not have become so comfortable there?) I remember it as par for the course of my experience--just as I remember sitting at her feet on the floor while she talked to us about civil rights.
I reflect on all this to illustrate the point that teachers do not just teach history. They do not just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. They teach children self-control and social skills. They teach them about injustice and kindness and courage. They teach them to find their passions. And teachers inspire and empower children to be responsible, passionate and active citizens of tomorrow.
I am not a Hillary Clinton. But I am politically active. I believe we should all be working toward social, racial and gender equality and I hope I have instilled that in my own four children. I believe in the power of love and I believe in teachers. I believe that public education can be that force of securing the equal opportunity we are all promised in the Constitution.
The freedom of teachers to do these things is being nearly obliterated in the state of Indiana today. Private interests (ALEC and the like) have hijacked our state legislature (whom we, perhaps on this subject, unwittingly voted for) and are now actively dismantling public education. Over 1,300,000 of us voted for an inspiring brilliant teacher in Glenda Ritz to lead the way of our Department of Education and, as I write, Bob Behning and his friends are likely voting on bills that would render her powerless to stop these privateers from turning our schools into a for-profit venture. I hope, if you read this, you will write and call the state legislature and declare your support for public education in honor of the teachers who have made you who you are today.
I do this for Ms. Drake and the countless teachers who have loved, encouraged and inspired me throughout my life. Happy Valentine's Day.