I had a really good talk with a very involved Unit 4 parent today and we spent a bit of time dancing around the topic of advocacy. One of the things we discovered during our conversation is that the only reason why we have this need for advocacy in the first place is because the system and society that we live in right now has power structures that are oppressive (and history tells us that this has been going on for a long long time); by “oppressive” I mean that the voice of dissent is consistently and systematically squashed. What confuses me is why the masses continue to abide by this twisted reality, why we accommodate it and thus permit it. I know, you are thinking that the nature of oppression in the first place is to basically make sure the status quo is maintained, enslaving the will of those oppressed and thereby to force accommodation. To rape one’s sense of being and worth.
But we don’t have to accommodate at all. We can speak out against it. And in fact, I think we have a moral obligation to do so.
You think I am being melodramatic – I can tell by the way you are itching to move on to the next thing. Bear with me a moment more. I heard a story of a child who was uncomfortable with the “inappropriate” play of another child. The first child told the attending teacher and nothing happened. The child then went to the next level (someone higher) and things started happening (good for the first child, not so good for the second). The child has learned an important lesson of advocating for self; a pretty rare trait in one so young, but a very crucial one to learn none-the-less. I heard another story of a young girl who witnessed a friend being bullied. Filled with indignation, she told the bullies to stop and walked her friend away from the situation. This was a powerful story of advocating for someone else; she saw something was wrong and could not abide by it, but was compelled to make the situation right.
Frequently I hear of parents who struggle to successfully and satisfactorily engage the system of our public schools. Please note, I do hear many success stories as well – the change in Unit 4 since the beginning of 2012 has been significant, even if subtle. Yet there are still those cases where parents, or even other stakeholders, attempt to assail the walls of bureaucracy only to be rebuffed and thrown back. In such cases I want to implore you not to give up. I want to shout “Yes you can!”. You say you are but one person. Yes, I know, so am I.
“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”
— attributed to Mother Teresa
If something is not right, if something is objectionable or just plain wrong, say something about it. And don’t stop until it is fixed. The latter is probably the hard part – it feels like there is no incentive, especially when we perceive that nobody is listening, or that nothing is happening. I’ll let you in on a little secret; no matter what, you have the power and authority to point out problems. Yes you can. The moment you swallow the lie that you cannot, you give up a little bit of yourself and make it come true.
So let’s get a little practical here. What’s going on in Champaign and what can you do? I’ll warn you, the former can rouse the rabble, the latter might just as quickly throw a wet blanket all over you.
Pattsi has made it quite clear on a few occasions (some private, some at Houlihans, and finally in a comment) the need to consider the “gestalt” of our taxes and even the mental health of our community:
In addition, the community needs to be made aware of other potential referenda during 2014, such as the Champaign County Nursing Home, County Jail, and an airport authority. Let alone the mental health needs that are not being serviced. In other words, the citizens ought to engage because this is a county-wide conversation, not just a narrow on[e] focused on Unit 4.
We as a community have a lot of tax issues coming up, possibly on the order of several hundred million dollars – what are you going to do about it? The Citizens for Peace and Justice has been extremely active and vocal about the County Jail issue. They are a couple drops in the ocean; I am sure a few more would be appreciated. I think they are on the path of “showing people the difference they can make.”
Just today I heard (National PTA post) and saw an email about Sen. Franken’s effort to push for broader mental health services in schools. I realize “mental health” is a rather oblique topic for most people; I urge you to look around and seriously consider the tragedies we hear about day in and day out. Will you abide and accommodate what you hear on the news?
I realize there are a million and one things for us to worry about. I get it. So choose your battles carefully, and continue striving to make a difference. Yes you can. How? You have to raise the issue to those in charge; tell your teacher, tell your principal, tell your board member, tell your senator, tell your representative. The biggest challenge is not to give up. You are not alone but you will feel like it; seek out those who also want to speak out against that which should not be accommodated.
PS – one more little secret; there are a lot of officials who really do want to hear from you. You might have to sift through a lot of silt to find them, but they are there.