The Real Imposters in the Education Conversation

Last week in a post for the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper, Erika Sanzi wrote a compelling piece about imposter syndrome in education reform — and began the conversation about who the real imposters are when it comes to education reform:

Impostor syndrome is “the fear that you’ll be found out at any moment as an impostor who doesn’t belong in your job or can’t do an important task.” Conventional wisdom would tell us that the “impostor” is someone whose pedigree, depth of knowledge, and/or confidence doesn’t mesh with those of his or her peers.

But the question is — who should the “peers” be in the education conversation? Only the policy wonks?

Often in many situations, parents like me are made to feel as if we’re not educated enough to participate in the conversation and our input simply isn’t needed. I have literally listened to union leaders (who don’t have children and have never lived in poverty) tell me that parents aren’t smart enough to make decisions for their children and education decisions are best “left to the experts.”

And they, of course, are the experts.

But who is a better expert on my own children than I am?

Who is a better expert on poverty than me, a person who has lived in the struggle?

Who is a better expert about what it’s like to overcome childhood trauma and the ghosts in the classroom than someone like me who left school and had to find an alternative path to education?

From Erika’s piece:

“Listening to the knowing chatter of the students around me, I was filled with self-doubt,” he recalls. “The room seemed full of budding experts. I wondered how they could know so much and how I would ever keep up.”

Don’t you think having real-life experience is valuable? And who is the real imposter here?

I once had an education enthusiast tell me that the key to helping parents lift themselves and their families out of poverty (and thereby open the path to more resources and better educational outcomes) would be to go to economically depressed areas and teach parents how to use Excel. Then their budgeting skills would improve — and BANG! No more problems.

Much like Chaka Khan, EduMom’s poker face is terrible.

My response was simple: I’ll take a mom who knows how to stretch $20 for an entire week — including bus fare — over “budget advice” from some fancy think tank full of folks who have never had to experience what it’s like to have empty cupboards and a week to payday. You tell me who the budgeting expert is!

Unless you’ve lived it, experienced it first hand and know what it’s like directly, anything you offer at the table is merely a theory. And if you’re not including folks like me in the conversation, a very uninformed one.

I may not come to the table with all the answers, but the context I provide as a person directly impacted by the issues you’re aiming to solve is important. My experience with trauma, having dropped out of school and being forced to seek alternative paths to education and the mother of three little boys who face an uphill fight to attain the education they deserve because of the color of their skin is crucial to the development of policies that work.

And isn’t that the point of all this?

So what are we so afraid of exactly?

At times we’ll challenge your thinking. We’ll correct your assumptions. We’ll provide a different perspective — and maybe one that you’ve never considered. But all of those things are important if our goal is to reach every child and make sure they have access to the high quality education we’ve promised.

Don’t be afraid of us — or our experience. Parents want to be partners — we’ve got the most skin in the game when it comes to education. Our children — and their future — depends on it.

 

What do you think?

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