With the recent Lincoln movie there has been resurgence of interest in our sixteenth president. Of course, we know who Abe Lincoln was because he was president, but what about Harriet Tubman? How is it nearly a hundred years after her death we remember the name of an ordinary black woman, a former slave? How is it we remember the name of Rosa Parks, another ordinary, otherwise powerless, black woman? We celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. annually as a national holiday. Why? What do all these people have in common? They all stood up against injustice, against insurmountable odds, all paying a price, some paying the ultimate price, their lives, fighting for freedom. Do we value freedom so little today we won’t risk a political fight or sacrifice TV viewing time?
On seeing the Lincoln movie I thought to myself, if only we had an Abe Lincoln to lead us in Tennessee; someone willing to fight for the educational freedom for Tennessee’s children. We have some Harriet Tubmans doing what they can to save the few they can. We have some Rosa Parks sitting alone, fighting in the small, solitary ways available to them. What about a modern day Lincoln? He would not have to go to an actual physical war to free and empower our children. But, perhaps the idea of a political war is too frightening for our modern “leaders.” Abe gave his life. Politicians today are unwilling to sacrifice the next election.
What about a Martin Luther King, Jr.? Where is Tennessee’s Martin Luther King, Jr.? Where is our modern day MLK standing in front leading the march demanding the same rights to a safe, quality education for our children that the politicians provide to their children? I suspect even if we had a modern day MLK he would be standing in the street — alone. Where are the parents demanding their children have the right to a quality education; the right to compete, to succeed, to become the MLK of their generation?
In an increasingly global economy, with increasingly liberal immigration even graduates of our “best” schools won’t be able to compete. Students in Williamson County, the wealthiest county in Tennessee, ranked only 60% in math and 74% in reading compared to student achievement in a set of 25 developed countries in 2009. Where is the parental outrage? Where is the parental courage and willingness to stand with our imaginary modern-day MLK to fight for our children?
Haslam, Harwell, and Ramsey are in an unprecedented position. They have the power to crush the system that tosses aside nearly 10,000 students a year who are dropping out of high school. They could stop supporting a failed and bankrupt institution by taking their funding and power away and attaching it directly to the children – empowering parents and students. There are any number of ways to do this. Yet, they plan only to rescue 5000 students “this year.” Perhaps in twenty-five years someone who cares will track down Haslam, Harwell, and Ramsey, comfortable in their retirement, and ask them if they regret failing to save Tennessee children; failing to end the educational apartheid – based not on race, but on wealth and zip codes; failing to destroy an unjust institution. Twenty-five years times the estimate of 10,000 dropouts per year comes to a quarter million lives destroyed; childhood dreams dissolved; potentials lost.
Alas, our politicians only get away with what we voters allow them. I ask again: Where are the parents?
Melodramatic? Only if it isn’t your child at risk.