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Essays on Civic Engagement

This Is Your Democracy

The Politics of Education

Kenza Dekar West Brookfield

It was June 28, 2018. I remember as if it was yesterday. I had finally gotten to the pile of mail that was waiting for me. We had traveled to visit our family overseas, and had just come back. In fact, we came back just two days ago and I was too jetlagged to do anything else but sleep during the day and be miserably awake at night.

At some point, going through the mail, I see a letter from our Public School District. I didn’t think much of it. You see, we are a homeschooling family. Every year, we have to report to the School district that we intend to homeschool our children in addition to evidence of progress as stated by the law. As a matter of fact we DO need the district approval in order to homeschool. 

I was sure it was a routine letter until I opened it. I was in a state of complete oblivion of what was going on. I sat down, and kept reading the letter trying to understand what and when I did wrong. 

The letter stated that if our kids were not in school by the beginning of the year they will be considered “Truants”.

At first, as an immigrant mother with a headscarf on my head, I was overcome with fear. They want to take away my kids, I thought. I had heard enough stories to know, without a doubt, that it was enough for them to make a phone call and DCF would be knocking at my door.

I immediately called a very dear friend and veteran homeschooler (Those are people who homeschooled for a long time) and asked her if she had received the same letter. She did. She received hers in May and has been talking with other parents in the city.

It turned out, every single homeschooler in the city received this letter regardless of how many years they have been doing it, how many children, where they live or their income, or their personal circumstances. It was totally arbitrary, or so it seemed. 

We started meeting, three parents then seven then we started having meetings at libraries. I have to admit that fear wasn’t there anymore. We were united on one front. It was motivating and invigorating to see so many other parents I had never met before tell their stories. 

It is easy to start a movement that speaks to people’s emotions of the moment.

Then a group was created on Facebook and updates were posted there. Social Media has been CRUCIAL in keeping up with the changes that the district was trying to enforce. It was also an amazing way to make sure everyone was speaking with one voice. 

The district was attempting to intimidate families by avoiding any kind of written communication and ignoring emails and letters. So our next step was to speak to the School committee. We started copying them in emails, but nothing worked. The superintendent was not budging.

What a learning opportunity. It was amazing to see the dynamic of the system. A lot of theatrical and ceremonial elements to it, it can be beautiful or aggravating depending on where you stand. You could fully feel the beauty of it if you are there for a recognition or an award, but if you have been wronged or unjustly treated, it can be quite upsetting to sit there and watch those same people threatening you of truancy listening to the introductory prayer at the meeting and putting their hands on their hearts and singing the National Anthem all virtuous….

It was clear to us that the superintendent had a support we were unable to measure against. We attempted to “lobby” with our contacts, but it was insignificant compared to the kind of lobbying the district was practicing. It was a whole different world. A world that sees us as statistics.

When some of the School committee members were understanding and acknowledged that the behavior of the district in general and the superintendent in particular were unacceptable, they seemed to be completely helpless. As for the remaining members, they were unconditionally standing behind her and were clear about making us feel like a bunch of spoiled parents whose kids should be in school anyway. 

There was an unhealthy and disturbing unbalance of powers. She is their employee yet she was clearly running the show and no one was going to say anything about it.

After speaking at the School Committee Meeting, things got tense, there was a bit more resistance. It felt that while the problem was being resolved for some, the rest of us who spoke were left to linger a bit longer (Few months). I was among the last people who received their approval to homeschool. My request was sent in July1st and the approval was sent to me by email on November 1st while I was sitting at the SC meeting. I could literally see the officer in charge emailing me.

It was a long, stressful, and unfair process. I got some major lessons in both organizing and lobbying. Most of the parents who were with us in the beginning ended up returning to their lives and we were three people left to fight for those who didn’t have a voice. And as I say this, I realize that I, myself pulled apart because life happened.

It is easy to start a movement that speaks to people’s emotions of the moment. It can be anger, grief, disbelief, or even joy, but the hardest is to sustain that movement. How long are people gonna remain angry, sad or even happy? Maybe the movement would have been more successful if we all agreed on why we were actually doing this, if it wasn’t a reaction to feeling oppressed but maybe a preventive measure? Honestly, I don’t know. We needed to focus on the Ethos I guess, because we were clearly speaking to people who had no idea whatsoever of where we were all coming from. 

As for the other lesson, an immigrant homeschool mom who is busy educating her children cannot possibly lobby in the same way as a 60+ year old woman who socializes in the highest circles of society with some of the wealthiest and most influential people around. This only leads to the one in authority becoming a bigger oppressor for their knowledge of their privilege, and (perceived) moral righteousness, while oppressed one’s voice becomes quieter for their need to pay attention to their immediate needs and what matters most to them at that moment.

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