By Brian “The Coach” Bass, Director of Organizing, Massachusetts Parents United
Sometimes education fights feel like Groundhog Day.
Different zip codes, different parents, different kids, same stale talking points, same stale opposition. Change the name on the building or the name of the school, swap out a different logo, but be prepared to refute the same nonsense playbook that you’ve had to deal with time and time again.
It’s like living in the twilight zone.
At Massachusetts Parents United, we work with parents across the Commonwealth to build a stronger voice to advocate for the education our children deserve. To us, that means putting parents in the driver’s seat when it comes to making educational choices.
I mean, isn’t this supposed to be about the children?
Parents know what is best for their own children, period. They know their individual needs and personalities. Education is NOT one-size-fits-all, although many have dedicated their lives to trying to convince us all that it’s not the case. Parents are the best equipped to decide — and they can and should make that determination for their kids.
So when parents need help, Massachusetts Parents United is there. Monday night, we were proud to support the Wildflower Montessori Public Charter School applicant group at their public hearing in Haverhill, MA.
(It can be nerve wracking to speak in public if you’re a parent, not just a paid union organizer. That’s why “the Coach” helps parents.)
Who was this mysterious “applicant group”? They were parents and members of the community who had an idea about creating a new option for children in Haverhill and families who believe in the Montessori approach to education. We don’t speak for them, they speak for themselves.
What’s Montessori school? It’s method of teaching has been around for decades, and the model has delivered tremendously successful environments for learning. The method of teaching is based on self-directed activity, independence, collaborative play and hands-on learning, and the environments are distinctly built to serve the needs of the student age range.
It’s absolutely fascinating, and the data shows it WORKS. The Montessori model instills core values into their curriculum, and plant themselves in the heart of neighborhoods like shopfronts. Montessori schools are teacher-led schools, where the teachers wear every hat you can imagine: teacher, janitor, principal, etc. and are designed to be small spaces that foster community. It is a unique educational space, and as we say for other schools of choice, it will work wonders for some children who need that type of education.
Although this methodology has been around for a long time and has proven to be widely successful for some students, it’s usually only available to those who can afford elite private schools. In Haverhill, parents and community members thought it would be a good idea to provide this style of teaching to kids who would otherwise never have access to it, so they put together a charter school application and filed with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for permission to open a school.
Yes, this would be a charter PUBLIC school (cue the BOGEYMAN and the frightening sounds of horror from the anti-innovation establishment).
As we arrived at the hearing on Monday, we were greeted by a sea of red shirts.
Wait, I’ve seen red shirts before. WAIT, I’ve seen THESE EXACT SAME PEOPLE BEFORE!
Again, we’re at public hearing in Haverhill, MA to support parents who want to talk about the needs of Haverhill students, with Haverhill families.
WHY IN THE WORLD ARE THERE TEACHER UNION MEMBERS FROM OTHER CITIES FORCING THEIR WAY INTO THIS HEARING?
At this point you must be asking yourself: How does he know this? It’s because a ton of these red-shirt ambassadors saving public education were also saving schools in New Bedford (read about that here).
So now the hearing looks like 40 of my Wildflower Haverhill friends talking about their children who go to school IN HAVERHILL, and over 100 teachers union members who are from all over the Commonwealth.
The whole purpose of this was made out to be a circus to intimidate the parents who came to testify on behalf Wildflower, and that’s a shame. If ever there was a poster child for exactly how NOT to create an environment that puts the needs of children FIRST, this is it.
Nevertheless, Wildflower supporters persisted. One after another, parents stood tall and spoke for up to 3 minutes each about their children, about their challenges and successes.
These weren’t corporate plants infiltrating Haverhill, or some type of establishment entreprise dictating what should happen to every kid in a classroom. There was no ‘entitlement’ behavior, as if they had a monopoly on this conversation, although if you ask the other side this is just an attempt to use “big data” and “secure tax write-offs for corporate self interest” (those were actual comments).
I’m not going to share names out of respect for their privacy, but one mother spoke about the tenets of the Montessori model – “Grace, Courtesy and Respect” – and how it empowers children and cultivates an environment of innovation.
Another mom spoke about her young son and his IEP that required breaks during the day to move around. Previously, he had to get pulled out of his class to roam the halls, but since starting the Montessori model he’s doing so well now that he no longer needs movement breaks and his confidence is SOARING.
Several parents spoke about being taxpayers and wanting to invest in Haverhill, acknowledging that people want to live in cities where the schools are great, and specifically in neighborhoods where they have access to quality choices.
Still more spoke about the Wildflower pre-k schools and Hill View Montessori, and how incredibly successful these environments have been for their children.
And I was most moved by the testimony of a woman of color who spoke about the school-to-prison pipeline and how public education isn’t designed for diverse families — speaking truth to power in a room of white middle-aged professionals.
By the end, almost 20 parents spoke in support of Wildflower. They want their children and all children in Haverhill and everywhere in the Merrimack Valley to have access to a school that fits their needs — standing up to professional lobbyists and activists from the teachers union and folks who literally get paid to block parents from choices in education. Let that sink in.
And as a lifelong Democrat, it was a disturbing scene to watch the union directing its statewide membership to undermine the needs of a local community that already ranks among the top cities in regards to sending their kids out of district.
Newsflash: these families have been telling you this for awhile, they don’t want the same thing. Fix it.
Here’s what didn’t happen Monday night: I didn’t hear a single apology. I didn’t hear the anti-crowd apologize for failing students in Haverhill.
I didn’t hear any collaborative solutions to fix ALL schools.
I heard stories about John Adams and Horace Mann and what they would think of this process.
NEWSFLASH: They are both dead.
And no one from 100 or 200 years ago could have possibly imagined the challenges we currently face in education.
It’s a bizarre hypocrisy when you claim you support a family’s right to choose, yet then you immediately say they can’t have their choices because it’s unfair.
You know what’s unfair? A child sitting in a school that isn’t serving his or her needs, year after year after year.
When does that child get their choice?
When does that child get the education they need for college or the job market?
None of this will solve the achievement gap. None of this will solve the opportunity gap.
Someone literally banged on the podium at this public hearing and said we have the best education in the country. This person must have missed the countless reports demonstrating that low-income, Latino and Black families actually don’t receive the best education in the country.
Let’s ask the thousands of families on the waitlist for different school options if they are getting the number one education in the country. Someone dig up Horace Mann and get his thoughts, since apparently he’s anti-charter, too.
This isn’t anti-union, this isn’t anti-public education.
I am so disappointed in the zero-sum game that has been manufactured and manipulated in Massachusetts. We are PRO-CHILDREN. We are PRO-OPPORTUNITY.
The distortion of facts, the anti-charter playbook and the convenient lack of accountability when it comes to solving your own problems is frankly embarrassing. Instead of admitting that you can do better, you create a family vs. family dynamic.
Every urban school in America needs more funding; the legislature and the governor are aware of that. Perhaps they can take their red shirts to Beacon Hill and pontificate about John Adams and the constitution over there, while these families in Haverhill do what’s best for their kids.
And to our families at Wildflower: Thank you. Thank you for being brave. Thank you for writing dozens of letters these past few weeks. Thank you for speaking your truth, for sharing your stories about your kids, the good and the bad, and for not backing down.
You demonstrated exactly the tenets of the Montessori Model: Grace, Courtesy and Respect.
Your kids would be so proud.