Students Don’t Enroll in School to Make a Political Statement, They Go to Learn

My little brother is a ten year old who loves to create slime, play video games, and make friends. He’s growing up in a time where a racist misogynist is in our country’s highest office; where children who look like him are separated from their parents and incarcerated; a time where unequal systems are prioritized over people. He came home from school one day and asked me if we were going to be separated too.

We sat down and talked about hate and privilege.

Me: There’s something called racism, and its based on the idea that people of color aren’t as important, good, or smart as white people.

Jon: Oh! Like Martin Luther King and people sitting on the bus!

Me: Yes. Black and Brown people weren’t always allowed to go to school, read, vote, or choose their own job. Racism is dangerous, it tells us its okay to send babies to jail, or treat someone differently because of the color of their skin. Someone pulled out a gun at grandpa because he was in a “white neighborhood;” mom was called a wetback growing up; and Sam [our sister] was harassed by guys with a Confederate flag last year. People don’t deserve to be treated differently because of what they look like or where they come from.

By the end of the conversation, my brother had enough.

Jon: Okay Desiree, when I grow up, I want to be president so I can run Donald Trump and people like him out. I’m ready.

I know he can do it!

Jon starts middle school next year. His zip code is 90001, here’s what that means.

It means that there are more failing middle school options than schools that are ready to prepare him with the foundation he needs to be ready for college. Charles Drew Middle School is the closest school to my house, 13% of students are at grade level English and 8% are at grade level math. Our zipcode means that access to a quality school that can prepare kids in our neighborhood is a privilege. Education is not a privilege, it’s a right, access to quality education should never be a privilege.

We live in a country with a monstrous wealth gap and increasing homelessness rates.

Education is powerful and transformative, it has the potential to change this.

For historically marginalized communities, education is often the difference between having the opportunity to choose a career you are passionate about or finding a job to make ends meet. Most stable, living wage jobs require a degree, my college degree gives me a privilege to apply to these. Most of the people in my life had similar or lower performing school options as my brother. Some were pushed into the school to prison pipeline or opted out of college because they didn’t feel prepared for higher education. I see the job insecurity, frustration, and lack of social mobility they face. While someone’s job does not establish a person’s worth, I think people deserve to have a choice—people deserve options. We say education is key to the American Dream, yet we continue to allow students to go through a system that continues to fail them.

Every student deserves to have a high quality public school. As a big sister, my priority is to make sure my brother has access to one. As a proud resident of South Central LA, my community deserves better than 10 failing middle schools.

Next year, my brother might attend a charter school because it is the only local school with a 10/10 on Families don’t enroll their children in schools to make a political statement, we want to give our youth the best education they deserve.

Here’s my political statement. Supporting school choice doesn’t mean I’m pro-charter or anti-traditional public schools. My political statement is that I am holding BOTH public charter and traditional public schools accountable to educate and prepare students. I’m unapologetically demanding LAUSD board members, administrators, teachers, teachers’ unions, CA State Superintendent, and Governor give our youth the schools, support, and resources they deserve. CA is ranked 44th in K-12 but 4th in higher ed. We need more money and accountability in our K-12 schools.

Why? Education is a right. I’m tired of my community not having access to the schools we deserve.

What do you think?

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Desiree Martinez

Desiree Martinez

Desiree Martinez is a proud native from South Central Los Angeles and LAUSD alumna. She is a first-generation college graduate from UCLA where she completed her BA in Sociology with a minor in Education Studies. Upon experiencing the lack of representation of students of color in higher education, she developed a passion fighting for social justice in k-12 education. A child’s zip code should not determine their education attainment, yet this is the challenge many students face today. Her experiences in her community propelled her to fight for social justice in educational equity work with Students for Education Reform (SFER). Desiree leads the organizing work for SFER in Los Angeles where she works and trains college students to advocate for better schools in marginalized communities and eliminate the belief gap.

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