I grew up in an ordinary, middle-class family in Iowa where I attended public schools. Through a stroke of fate, I was critically injured in a head-on collision in my 20s and received insurance money that allowed me to attend the Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago. My fellow classmates were very different from me.
They came from wealthy and privileged families.
During my time at the University, I sat in on many conferences about educational policy, but there was one conference in particular that changed my view of the world.
It was a conference about school choice in public education. I didn’t have a strong opinion about this topic, but I soon discovered that people in the educational community DID hold strong positions about it. In this case, the people in the room were against it.
In particular, a fellow in my graduate cohort stood up and waxed on about how TERRIBLE school choice was—adamantly, insistently, and angrily voicing his displeasure.
And here’s the thing that twisted me: This particular guy had never set foot inside a public school, nor would he ever send his children to public school. He grew up ultra-wealthy and attended exclusive boarding schools.
In fact, he made fun of my college degree from a large midwestern state university, jeeringly calling it a “Midwest factory.”
This was the defining moment when I realized that the scope of policy in our country is defined by a select, chosen few. Maybe I was naive, but for me at that moment, I was blown away by the arrogance and hypocrisy. The privileged—the well-educated and wealthy—not only make policy decisions but believe they have the RIGHT to do so.
They believe they have the right to make important life decisions for the rest of us.
Years ago, I heard a story about a Cesar Chavez farm worker meeting in the 1950s. The room was packed with men who were arguing loudly. And then an old woman who’d been sitting silently in the back of the room for the past hour rose to speak. Apparently, when she started to speak you could hear a pin drop in the room. I don’t remember now what she said, but I do remember how important her voice was.
Her courage to stand up and speak changed the energy and direction of the entire conversation. In a machismo culture, in a roomful of men, her voice had an impact.
May we all have the courage to use our voices.