Saturday, September 13, 2008

A childless, single guy... a parent advocate! ???

My history with parents and schools goes back to the late 60s.
I had been a high school English teacher who then took on becoming a VISTA supervisor and trainer. It was a special program, Vista Minority Mobilization Project, and it put me in contact with families and students all over south Texas that were very dissatisfied with their public schools. Families were experiencing racism in schools and were demanding that there be more Mexican American teachers, that students not be punished for speaking Spanish…that students be prepared for college and be considered college material. Families initiated school walkouts to put pressure on schools. I went from goody-student council sponsor-popular-teacher to angry-community-organizer.
YES: my life work had to be around advocacy for children in public schools... public education is to me the crucible and hothouse (competing but apt metaphors) for democratic principles and for leadership development and the institution that will provide poor and working class families the avenue for betterment and a brighter future.
I surprized myself with this realization because I had been a literature buff and English major in college and had expected to go for my masters in literature and become a writer or college prof. My four years as a high school English teacher really changed my dreams and personal vision. Education, public education, is my vocation, my vice and my path. Advocating for civil rights, social justice and liberation provided the fuel to energize my actions. I was angry at myself for belatedly realizing that racism and bigotry was all around, and also, that it was not just a black/white confrontation. I spent a few years marching around with raised fist shouting "Chicano Power". (That was 30 years ago, and doesn't reflect what I do and say these days). I am still deeply concerned with the economic, social and educational attainment of the Latino community, but that is not my sole concern, nor do I see that cause as separate or exclusive to all the other social needs and concerns.

After several years of starting alternative systems, co-creating community organizations and roving around south Texas as an organizer, in 1975 I settled into an advocacy organization that met all my criteria for an ideal locus of activity: The Intercultural Development Research Association(IDRA) brain-child of Dr. Jose A. Cardenas.
>Public School advocacy, support and research;
>Teacher training, curriculum development and public policy work;
>A Latino education think-tank with more Latino and African American Ph. D.s than most university schools of education;
>Academia and rigor coupled with field work and advocacy.
I was let loose in the candy store...the sweets were the bright, creative, intelligent and progressive educators committed to equity and excellence in our public schools. Brains and brawn -- courage and compassion.

I became the lead, the point-person for parent involvement as well as the lead trainer in-house. Because I had been an organizer, I was considered a natural to work with families. In the early 80s we had a project funded by the Office of Bilingual Affairs to work with parents whose children were in bilingual programs. We conducted bilingual training of trainers for those families.
Our Family Leadership in Education model, our organizational sense of what we needed to do to help parents support and excellent education, evolved from those and other experiences. We at IDRA advocate for excellent schools for all children...And the most important and natural allies in that cause are parents/families.
Ergo, thusly, and that is why,our focus in parent/family involvement is leadership. Parenting programs abound. Some good and many mediocre models, training, packages, magazines, consultants and organizations focus on how to be a better parent.

We see a vacuum in the leadership arena...and yet know that if parents ever really take leadership and organize/network and create the neighborhood schools their children merit, watch out! The promise of this democracy will no longer be a dream.

And back to me, single and childless, and with a wide catholicity of interests, causes, and possibilities that surround me. Some weeks I read voraciously: current pulitzer-prize fiction, tomes of modern poetry or re-read some american literary classics...nothing directly related to my professional work. Some months I hang out in museums and attend artsy-fartsy plays and contemporary theater. I will sometimes binge on collages, creating but some interesting but not very well executed pieces (I'm red-green color blind).
I do keep up with different liberation movements, and feel agreement and spiritual brotherhood with friends of the earth, feminists, gay liberationists, and various grass roots political movements all over the world. But what I act upon every week, what I'm committed to as an act of faith way beyond reason, is to create public schools that work brilliantly for all children.

Who can explain magic, miraculous art, love, faith, spirituality and obsession? The reason why this single, childless, old guy advocates for children in public schools and their families as the strongest force for advocacy in the defense of their children is...just because.


Lorna Costantini said...

Just because is a very good reason. It reflects an intuitive sense of the needs of others

Carla Dallas said...

when I started in parent education I was also single and childless, it just gave me that much more focus and time to dedicate to the "causa"! no matter what, we were children of parents, and can draw our parent advocate street creds from that, no?