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"They're All Our Children"

Alongside discussions of mental health and gun control, we must use the lessons of Sandy Hook to reframe the debate around education reform.

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The new paradigm in education reform must include the following:

  • A national acknowledgement of the plight of childhood poverty, both as a scar on our nation and an crippling weight on the back of our public schools and teachers. The U.S. must embrace the Martin Luther King Jr. imperative from 1967:

“As a consequence, fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor….In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else….We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.”

  • A national commitment to workers' rights, including teachers as workers, because our national workers are parents and the conditions of work are the conditions of living and learning for the children of America.
  • A recognition that the actions of the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary, while rightfully honored as heroic, are the essence of what it means to be a teacher since teachers enter and conduct their lives each day as if their students are their children.
  • A confrontation of our eagerness to police our children, creating schools-as-prisons, as well as our failure to address the school-to-prison pipeline that includes inequitable discipline policies by race, gender, and class that mirror the fact that African American and Latino males outnumber white males in prison 10-to-1.
  • A renewed commitment to public schools and public school teachers that rejects distractions such as charter schools and Teach for America, both of which perpetuate the marginalization of "other people's children" and institutionalize policies and practices that no one in privilege would allow for her/his child.
  • An examination of the rise of racial and class segregation in community-based public schools and charter schools—along with a reform agenda that addresses equity of opportunity for all children.
  • An immediate repeal of the accountability paradigm for schools based on standards and high-stakes testing, to be replaced by an equity of opportunity paradigm that addresses access to rich and engaging learning experiences in safe and supportive school environments.

President Obama's call for each child, our child has, as Obama acknowledged, been absent in the U.S.—as Barbara Kingsolver laments about our rugged individualism mythologies: "Our nation has a proud history of lone heroes and solo flights, so perhaps it's no surprise that we think of child-rearing as an individual job, not a collective responsibility."

It is well past time to face our culture of violence, our gun fetish, our negligence to recognize universal health and mental care as a right of free people, and our failure as a nation of parents. "They're all our children."

"Be careful what you give children, or don't," Kingsolver warns, "for sooner or later you will always get it back."


Paul L. Thomas is an associate professor of education at Furman University.

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