Guestblogger Adam Gleicher is an organizer and education advocate in Denver, Colorado. He is a former public school teacher who taught in New Orleans, Louisiana and a member of Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE)
Alex’s* nickname at school was termite because he was so skinny. Of all the challenges I faced as a first year teacher, Alex was perhaps the greatest. During class, he would torpedo around the classroom, toss textbooks while my back was turned, and hit other students – anything to avoid doing work.
It was 3 weeks before I could even get him to look at piece of schoolwork.
I had heard about the Achievement Gap, and it was the injustice of inequitable education that inspired me to become a teacher—but there is nothing that hits you in the gut like seeing a 15-year old who can’t read a single letter.
How could we as a society allow a child to go 15 years without learning how to read?
Alex was dyslexic, and just like every other school he had gone to, the one he attended had no adequate plan to address his learning disability. Eventually, Alex was permanently pulled from my classroom where he spent his days roaming the halls and running errands. He never received the services he needed.
By the end of the school year Alex was in jail. He had the misfortune of being born in a Zip code full of failing schools, and that dictated his future.
After two years I left the classroom, intent on reforming a system that had drastically failed Alex and students like him throughout the country. Believing that this egregious inequality in education for children like Alex was a civil rights issue, I turned to community organizing.
I moved to Colorado to organize for a Senator who had been a groundbreaking superintendent of public schools. He and I shared the belief that meaningful education reform requires bold action. To improve outcomes for children, we need to challenge a status quo that sometimes places the interests of adults before students, and do whatever it takes to ensure our school system meets the needs of all kids.
During the campaign, I discovered the real impact of a people-powered movement. Concerned citizens talked to their neighbors, conversations led to votes, votes led to victory. On the morning after Election Day, it became clear—by a razor-thin margin, an army of volunteers had propelled the Senator I worked for back to Washington, where he could continue to be an advocate for children.
I spent this summer with another people-powered movement. Community Campaigns for Educational Justice was comprised of 30 college students from all over the country who had come to Denver to ensure better opportunities for all Colorado children. Some of the participants had benefited from excellent schools and some had the misfortune of attending failing schools – but all were committed to creating change.
By the end of the summer, participants had conversations about schools with tens of thousands of voters throughout Colorado, and collected thousands of signatures to demand a more equitably funded educational system. When regular people take action—like committed campaign volunteers and passionate college students—they can move the needle.
Every child deserves the opportunity to fulfill their potential and to attend a school that allows them to do so. If we as a community stand up and collectively demand more, we can create that future.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the student