All over America, public school board meetings have become battle grounds on all kinds of hot button issues: masks in school, science/history curriculum, DEI, CRT, and banning books. It doesn’t matter where you stand on any of the issues mentioned above. Anyone that has watched board meetings knows that public schools are under attack. I believe that public education is something that people are very passionate about; it falls in a religion-like category. People have all kinds of feelings, thoughts, or opinions about public education. And those feelings, thoughts, or opinions can be negative or positive. To me that means public education should be respected in ways where people can have their voices heard and listened too. But right now, it is the ugly stepchild getting mistreated.
Board members are personally verbally attacked, teachers are being doxed or fired, and parents supporting public education are being followed into parking lots. Public schools are being chewed and spit on when many children and adults historically and currently benefit in so many ways. Because of this mistreatment public education is having to fight more than ever to survive. Despite public schooling, for the last two years, being rough for students, teachers, and parents, I can honestly say that public school saved my life, and I will forever support public schools.
My public education is the reason why I am an educator. It is the reason why I moved to Texas. It is the reason why I work at an amazing district. It is the reason why I currently attend U.T at Austin as a graduate student. In fact, I can trace so many big events and major life choices to my public-school experiences.
My parents valued many things, but one of their top priorities was to make sure that their kids were educated, and they fully believed in public schools creating spaces for their children to be empowered. Education = freedom was the motto my family lived by. Currently eight siblings have college degrees or in the process of obtaining one. All of us attended public schools.
New Mexico public schools fed me and my eight siblings. Getting free lunch didn’t make me feel shame because I didn’t know I was poor until one of my friends told me how poor I was. I think my not knowing attributed to my public education in New Mexico never making me feel my poverty, and that probably had to do with many Latino families in the same position as me. My public schools tried their best to make every student welcomed and fed. According to Welfare Info (2019), “New Mexico ranks 49th in Poverty Rate at 20.6% (poverty rankings by state). The Poverty Rate of New Mexico is dramatically higher than the national average of 14.6%.” While I am proud of my education, I did attend public school that lacked resources, but it didn’t matter. It was a space where I learned and made mistakes.
Public school exposed me to diverse books and texts. Kindergarten set me on a journey on being a passionate reader. It was in Mrs. Henderson’s afternoon half-day class I learned the power of reading. I would open a book and look at the pictures; I would try to detect what the words were saying, this fascinated me because I knew that adults had this superpower of reading, and I wanted to have that superpower too. Even in Mr. Watford’s AP English class, I used my power to struggle through reading Dante’s Inferno. The love of books followed me past my K-12 education. Thank you, Mrs. Henderson. Thank you, Mr. Watford.
Public school introduced me to my creative side: Art, Theater, and Music. As a poor brown kid with multiple siblings, there is no way my parents could afford to put me in private art classes. I was able to be in Theater, Band, and Art because public school offered these classes. And in high school, I was able to write my own scripts and produce my own plays. The number of opportunities fine arts classes created for me was really a privilege that I took for granted at the time. These classes do support the core classes to build a well-rounded child.
As I reflect on my public education, I was a balanced student with many opportunities despite coming from a place with high poverty and drop-out rates for Latino/a/x students. “New Mexico has the highest percentage of Latinos – 47 percent – of any state in the country, the Land of Enchantment still lags behind in high school graduation rates, 69 percent compared to 80 percent nationwide” (NBCUniversal News Group, 2015). With so many cards stack against me, my family, my teachers, and my public education pulled me through. I am finishing my eighth-year teaching and my first year as a Master student.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Right now, the village is in trouble. People are coming with metaphorical pitch forks to create chaos. Public schools need to be invested in, protected, and fought for; they do not need to be set on fire.
NBCUniversal News Group. (2015, November 30). New Mexico: A community approach to raising Latino graduation rates. NBCNews.com. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/new-mexico-community-approach-raising-latino-graduation-rates-n471636
Poverty in New Mexico. New Mexico Poverty Rate. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2022, from https://www.welfareinfo.org/poverty-rate/new mexico/#:~:text=Historical%20New%20Mexico%20Poverty%20Rate%20%20%20,%20%2013.4%25%20%204%20more%20rows%20