Yesterday I joined with hundreds of public education supporters to advocate for public schools. It was a great event and the atrium of the statehouse was electric with the energy of so many passionate people!
I was asked by Vic Smith if I would speak from a parent perspective and give a little background about our group here down in Bloomington. I couldn't say "no" to the founder of ICPE at the state level! How can you say "no" to someone who is devoting so much time and energy in his "retirement" to protect public education from this attack (and who has the warmth, charm and looks of Mr. Rogers to boot!) ?
I've never been so nervous in all of my life. I wish I could have heard all of the speakers with all of my attention but I was honestly concentrating so hard on breathing and worrying about whether I would pass out or have a stroke in front of all of those people that all I could hear was my heart beat in my own ears!
Anyway, with the deepest humility and per many requests, I am posting my speech here. But, before I do, I want to thank people for their kind words about what I said. I met many people who said that my words really affected them and that, to me, means that more of us need to speak up. Because what I said is nothing new or revolutionary-- it's just that we all feel so very overwhelmed by this situation that it makes us feel powerless. I think that when you hear that someone else thinks or feels exactly the way you have been thinking or feeling, it makes you feel like you are not alone. Well, you are not alone. We are all fed up. And we need to keep talking and raising our voice and shouting to the legislators until they hear us. Or, at least, until we can vote them the heck out and get people in office who understand that we choose public schools. And as choices go, we are going to make different ones come November.
Here is what I said:
My name is Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer and I'm very happy to be here among so many friends showing their support for public education. I am the mother of four children in public schools. I am also the chairperson of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education of Monroe County and South Central Indiana. We formed our "chapter" of Vic Smith's wonderful ICPE over a year ago in response to the attack on public education. We are parents, grandparents, retirees, and community members who meet regularly, host forums, pass out flyers at the Farmer's Market, have a letter-writing group, are on Facebook and we are constantly trying to raise awareness among our friends and neighbors about the big picture in education.
Most people don't know the big picture of corporate greed and the desire to privatize our public schools, but they DO know that we have been headed in the wrong direction. That's why parents like me worked so hard last fall to elect our wonderful state superintendent, Glenda Ritz. That's why Glenda Ritz received more votes than most of the elected officials last fall, including our governor Mike Pence. Because the vast majority of us support our public schools. We wanted an educator to lead us. We believe in our teachers and we believe that they know best how to reach our children and help them grow.
And we are here today to say to our state legislature: "enough is enough."
We have had enough of politicians and businesspeople using their money and power to make decisions in education.
We have had enough of the scapegoating of our teachers and disrespecting their authority and expertise. We want teachers, the professionals who know and care for our children, to direct their educational experience. Not politicians who know nothing about learning and teaching methods.
We certainly have had enough of the incessant high-stakes testing of our kids--they are CHILDREN not data points on graph. While the testing companies rake it in, our children are learning in an increasingly pressured environment with an increasingly narrowed curriculum. As a mother, I want so much more for my children than can be found on a test score. I want them to love learning, to act out stories and explore their interests. I want hands-on science projects and dioramas of their storybooks--not bubble sheet after bubble sheet of test prep brought to you by Pearson.
We are here because we are sick to death of the constant draining of our funds to private interests through these vouchers (or, as Orwell would call them "choice scholarships"). The fact is that our schools are not failing. Miracles on shoestring budgets are performed in schools every day. Unlike private schools, public schools accept every child who walks through their doors. It doesn't matter what color, what religion, what socioeconomic background, what needs that particular child has--- the public schools' mission is to meet every child's potential.
We are here because we think it is wrong that our PTAs and PTOs have to hold bake sales and put pretty baskets up for auction while politicians redirect MILLIONS of our tax dollars to private schools with their talk of school choice.
We in Indiana have already made our choice. It is called public education and it is in our state constitution. But in order to support them, we must fully FUND public schools. I have heard a state legislator say at one of the hearings on vouchers: "the government should not have the monopoly on schools." Well, this is NOT a business franchise we are talking about. It is NOT a game of monopoly for chambers of commerce to play. It is our children's future, their places of learning and growing. Their education, this PUBLIC system of education, is not only their Constitutional RIGHT, but it is the cornerstone of our democracy!