Responsibility: Naming Casualties of Education War

By Iris Altamirano

“You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself belonging to it and responsible for changing it.” -Grace Lee Boggs

Feb 1, 2014 is the day that I took personal responsibility for the educational disparities in our city. I accepted the challenge to run for one of two seats on the Minneapolis School Board.  

What that unprecedented political path taught me was about the “Education War” A war being fought by the teacher’s union and the so called corporate reformers.

The casualties of this war are children of color.

Today, I don’t come to you as a janitor’s daughter turned Ivy Leaguer. I don’t, even come to you, as a stateswoman who ran for office.

My hope is to reach you two fold–both as a mother and as the other.  I wish I could just be a mother. But, I can’t. I can’t because I learned about Minnesota’s identity politics the hard way.    

I, now, know that what you see– is a brown mother.

As a mother, I am concerned that we are graduating less than half of our children in our city, regardless of their skin color.  

Now, as Iris Altamirano– I come to you knowing that the odds that Carlos and Sofia are to beat are even harder than the odds that I was able to beat in obtaining a high school diploma almost 20 years ago.

From the perspective of “the other,” the education war looks more like the teacher’s union and the reformers (all overwhelmingly white) have been playing battleship way out in a distance in what appears to be troubled waters.

In 2014, highly decorated knights, who knew of my gritty ability to swim in troubled waters and work through tough terrain– approached me.

My mission: To reach both ships.

First I swam to what I knew, the union battleship.  While aboard, I realize that at the heart of this war is—RACIAL EQUITY. I jumped ship enduring a couple of non-fatal wounds as I swam back to shore.  ¿Como se dice? Friendly fire.  

While on land, there is no doubt that –the loving embrace of community– healed those wounds and mothered me well enough to get back into the water, only this time the task was to swim to the reformer’s battleship.

Again, I learned, and again, I had to get re-grounded.

As my feet hit the sand, Union soldiers attempted to strong arm me into picking a side.

Exhausted, I declare: I have a side.

I am on the side of love. I am on the side of resilience. I am on the side of the community often silenced by the “Education War.”


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