By CSF President Darla M. Romfo
In October 2014, a young man made his way out of Cuba in a rickety boat in the dark of night with a few other brave souls. By sheer force of will and a bit of luck they crossed the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico and then to the United States.
In the span of those few years in America, he became a massage therapist, bought a house, reunited with his family, and while working full-time, is also pursuing a nursing degree in English-based classes, after not knowing a word of English when he left Cuba.
When I asked him what he likes best about America, he told me, “I like it that a person is truly free to better themselves in America.” I am so grateful this is his experience of America.
Sadly, I know it is not the experience of many children who are actually born here and, by virtue of their parents’ income and the zip code they live in, are stuck in a failing school. Too many are not learning what they need to know or being presented with the opportunities to even think about their potential, let alone reach it. They are not really free in the way my immigrant friend has experienced, since the systems they are entrusted to are simply not working.
How can this still be so in America after all of the dollars and time that have been invested in “education reform?”
I think the reason is that the system itself and many of the reforms pursued miss the point of my immigrant friend’s American experience. They aren’t based on the key word in my friend’s answer — freedom.
Freedom is a word that is easily misused and often based on misguided ideas of what it means in practice. But in the area of education, its use and meaning should be pretty simple. All parents — not just parents with financial means — should be free to choose the best educational options for their children. It is only when parents are recognized and respected as the ones who are most fully equipped to know what is best for their child and empowered to make decisions according to what they know, that education will be designed and delivered to meet their expectations.
As CSF marks its 21st birthday, we remember all the parents desperate for something better for their children. They are not so different from my friend who crossed the Gulf of Mexico in that rickety boat. They would do almost anything to gain educational freedom for their children. Some came to America in the belief that their children would have access to a good education only to be horrified by what they found. We help as many as we can, and I am grateful to be able to do that and grateful to anyone reading this who has supported this effort. But we still look to the day when every single parent can know they will be able to choose an education for their child that allows them to tap their full human potential.
No matter what the situation, where there is life there is hope, and the parents and children I meet through my job inspire my own hope in the belief that in America a person is truly free to better themselves.