It’s time for Latino leaders to trust their constituents and support their educational choices.
In his 1968 book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire wrote, “trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change. A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.
But too many champions of the Latino community, in Freire’s words, “substitute monologue, slogans, and communiqués for dialogue,” and “attempt to liberate the oppressed with the instruments of domestication.” Latinos—like everyone else—don’t need to be told what to do or what to believe. We need to be equipped with the tools necessary to reach our full human potential.
But above all else, we need to be trusted to navigate our own path towards liberation.
Si se puede was an effective slogan for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union in the 1970’s, but it has now become so commonly misused that it has lost most of its real meaning. For example, when chants of “si se puede” can be heard at teacher union led rallies—which reject a parent’s right to choose what they believe is the best educational option for their children—it has more to do with denying possibilities to children than anything else.
Despite Latino concerns in respect to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric regarding immigration, many Latinos continue to prioritize education above all else. According to the Pew Research Center, improving the educational system tops the list of Latino priorities for 2017. This is no surprise to those of us on either side of the school choice debate. We all agree that public education is failing too many of our most vulnerable children, and that something must change. What we disagree on is who we trust to make that change.
Many polls and surveys demonstrate the clear majority of Latinos support the idea of school choice. However, many well-intentioned Latino leaders will continue to deny them that freedom to choose. Instead, they insist that our community must stick together in solidarity to support the government run district schools. These leaders proclaim, among other things, that charter schools and voucher programs discriminate and were created by the affluent and predominately Anglo community to try to segregate poor Latinos and Blacks.
But even if charter schools and voucher programs were shown to have better results of desegregation than traditional district schools, it wouldn’t suddenly change these same opponents to champions of school choice. It wouldn’t change their current loyalties to teachers’ unions and other allies.
Freire insists that communities organize to fight for their rights and liberation. However, Freire warns that without trusting the people in their “pursuit of self-affirmation” even well intentioned leaders will—instead of liberating—often unknowingly become the oppressors themselves. Freire says, “Any situation in which ‘A’ objectively exploits ‘B’ or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression.”
Solidarity, according to Freire, is not so much to combine multiple causes (i.e. immigration, LBGT rights, economic inclusion, etc.) to attain more influence through larger masses of people. Instead, Freire insists that solidarity is the support given to individuals to help them through their struggle of self-liberation, and that the community leaders support this liberation process through dialogue and trust—not dictating with monologue and slogans. Freire goes on to say that, “Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects…it is to lead them into the populist pitfall and transform them into masses which can be manipulated.”
Freire isn’t without his own pitfalls. His Marxist lens can obscure important ideas about human dignity. But much of what he had to say on this topic of liberation can enlighten my hermanos y hermanas who don’t currently support school choice.
Those who are still not convinced should trust the people to make their own decisions on whether to participate in a school choice program, as well as stand with them in true solidarity by fighting with them. This can only happen if education is regarded as distinct from the other “solidarity” issues.
Our Latino children’s education and future can no longer be held hostage by good intentions based on a false definition of solidarity.
This article, by our founder Zeus Rodriguez, originally appeared at The Hill.