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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.

Photo Credit: Cynoclub via


It should not have taken the killing of 20 innocent children and 6 dedicated educators in a school, but I will not belabor that point.

At a prayer vigil in Newtown, CT, on the evening of December 16, 2012, President Barack Obama asked and answered his own question about America's children:

"And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we're counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we're all parents; that they're all our children.

"This is our first task — caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right. That's how, as a society, we will be judged.
And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we're all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

"I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We're not doing enough. And we will have to change."

While most of the country anticipates that Obama's moving and veiled speech will result in a new national discussion about gun control and mental health, and that this reframed debate may lead to policy reform addressing both, I believe Obama has also established the new paradigm for education reform: every student, our child.

When President Obama first spoke of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school and cried, I cried also. It was not that the president of the U.S. was allowing his emotions to be witnessed by the entire world, but that I saw him as a father and in that moment trusted his humanity and the promise of his leadership.

But I often think of President Obama as a father, and as a man of color. Those details of his status as president, in fact, have been the source of my deep disappointment in his many failures to lead the U.S. as I believe he could, especially his role in the bully pulpit of how the U.S. views our public schools and teachers.

I have more than once asked why President Obama insures one type of schooling for his wonderful daughters while allowing his Secretary of Education and the U.S. Department of Education to promote and implement policies that marginalize further "other people's children."

In the first administration of Obama's presidency, we have not treated public school students as "all our children"—and we certainly haven't treated America's teachers as the teachers of our children.

If the shooting of children and educators in an elementary school was President Obama's epiphany about every child, our child, and Obama now will lead the nation to confront and change our legacy and culture of violence as well as our failure to provide every American the basic right of full access to mental (and health) care, then we must also rethink our education reform agendas to be grounded in that same principle so that universal public education in the U.S. insures that each student is our child and that this is expressed in the actions of our days.

Confronting gun control and mental health are complex and daunting agendas for President Obama and the U.S. Reframing education reform will be no less complicated, but seeking public schools as foundations of our democracy can be realized if we ask hard questions and measure our new policies against Obama's refrain, "they're all our children."

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