Saturday, April 23, 2011

Throwing Our Children Under the (School) Bus

There are a lot of ways I try to protect my child and when there's a good teachable moment, I take it. I've told her what to do if she ever gets separated from me and her dad. And yes, I've had discussions with her about how her body belongs to her and only her, and what to do if anyone ever touches her in an uncomfortable way, and what to do if anyone ever tries to lure her towards their car. I make her practice saying "No - get away from me! I don't know you," in a loud voice.

There are other ways to harm children though. And others ways a loud voice can come in handy.

Recently the schools superintendent in our district said -- publicly -- that the biggest problem in our under-performing Jersey City schools was "bad" girls.

I could feel my blood pressure rising. It's not just because I am the mother of a girl, or even that I was once a student in the Jersey City public schools. When Dr. Charles T. Epps put down the girls in our town, he put them all down and he told everyone, including them, that he thinks they can't succeed.

I would expect an educator to know how much words can hurt children. Our superintendent doesn't seem to be worried about this, and apparently, neither is the School Board which has not censured him, despite the fact that what he said was outrageous and unacceptable. Did I mention that the majority of the schools in this district are failing? Did I tell you about the complaints people have about the administration? Did I mention that our superintendent makes so much money he needs a special waiver from Gov. Christie - who has put a cap on superintendent's salaries in the Garden State - to keep collecting his paycheck?

Well, I got so incensed about the situation, I went to speak at the Board of Education meeting held recently. While I was there, I held up a picture of my six-year-old daughter, to let the Board and the administration know, we are talking about real students here, real girls - and no child should be told they are "bad" (or "dirty" or "nasty" - which Dr. Epps also called our students.)

None of our students should be told they are nasty; it sends a message that the adults at the helm of this huge educational system, the people in charge of their very education, don't believe in them. It throws every one of them under the bus.

Here's the good news: getting involved in this fight means I have made more of connection with the parents in my community - especially with some of the other mothers in this area. We aren't in this alone. All we need now are leaders who aren't afraid to stand up and lead. Lord knows if they won't, a pack of pissed off moms will.

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