“We Tell You What’s So”

By Guest Columnist Mar 21, 2007

I knew it was coming. I knew exactly what they were going to say and exactly how they were going to say it. I knew before I spoke what the men in suits and the legislators on the panel were going to say. I knew days before I arrived recently at the hearing before the California Assembly Subcommittee on Career Technical Education and I tried my damnedest to head it off. I began by telling the panel how 80% of parents of color in California, want their children to go to college and how one poll showed that 77% of high school students in Los Angeles want to go to college. But then the chair of the subcommittee cut me off. “Parents want to send their kids to college, we’re not providing it, we get it, move on.” Just like that, my single most important statement before the committee was swept aside with such indifference as to render the rest of my argument pointless. Other more esteemed experts and I provided the committee undeniable evidence of the inequalities in the California school system; the desire of students and parents to go to college; and the opportunity to improve the high school curriculum so that it rises to a college preparatory level. We showed them how raising school funding, standards of instruction and support for teachers and students leads to lower drop out rates, higher test scores and lower achievement gaps, but they were equally disregarded. It was like I said the sky was blue. “So it is, Mr. Sanchez, so it is. “ Then the legislators and their hired guns grabbed the microphones and unleashed a barrage of ignorance like I hadn’t heard in a very long time. “They don’t really want to go to college…They don’t even know what college is…They don’t want their kids to go to college…They just want them to have a job and be happy.” Just like that, the committee acknowledged the inequities we had just presented, rationalized them and then moved on. The message was clear, the legislature has decided who gets a quality education in California and who doesn’t. They’ve decided it is acceptable for “those people” (people of color) to suffer unequal treatment in public schools. In fact “they” actually preferred it that way. It was unnerving how comfortable legislators and their staff were with such condescending remarks. Then I read a Los Angeles Times blog post that said two teachers were fired for protesting the exclusion of a poem about the death of Emmet Till during Black History Month. For those who aren’t familiar, Till was a teenager, kidnapped, shot and beaten to death by white men because he whistled at a white woman. His murderers were acquitted of the crime then publicly confessed to their misdeeds. The school’s official position was that Till’s story was too violent to be shared in front of third and fourth graders and that was not the point of the school’s Black History Month celebrations. Some teachers even went so far as to say that Till sexually harassed the white woman and was not worthy of mention along with other leaders and events of the Civil Rights Movement. The two teachers who most strongly objected to the exclusion of Till’s story wrote a letter to the principal and encouraged their students to do the same if that was what they believed. The students did and the teachers were fired. It didn’t matter that the school was celebrating Black History Month and the death of Emmet Till was a low point in Black history. It didn’t matter that Till was killed because he was Black and flirted with a white woman. Never mind that Till’s death was a spark plug for the Civil Right’s movement in Mississippi, and the fired teachers protested in a manner consistent with the very same Civil Rights movement the school was celebrating. And of course, it didn’t matter that many of the parents who send their children to the school wanted the story included. The school decides what part of Black History is remembered and which is not. They get to decide what’s so. I wonder when these so called leaders will ever come to the realization that we, the P.O.C. of God’s green earth are very well capable of deciding what’s so for ourselves.