Do I Belong in the Network for Public Education?


Its called the race card.

And it was dropped on me in a place I never expected, but in sad retrospection, should have.

It was flattered to be asked to present at the first annual Network for Public Education conference 10 days ago in Austin, Texas. This little blog has developed quite a following for people interested in the politics behind Florida education policy. The weekend was a wonderful experience as I got to meet and spend time with people I shared so much with and finally had the chance to meet.

My hopes are for NPE to expand in influence, but the uh-oh moment came during Sunday’s Common Core panel when a member responded to a question about Tea Party support to oppose Core. His response was that he could never accept the Tea Party as they “see me as sub-human.”

In the day of social media, such an irresponsible broad-brushing of a segment of our nation often ends up a take-away. Moreover, it brings discredit to a fledgling movement that badly needs to be taken seriously and gain legitimacy. It is within social media where I attempted to express my concerns about using such inflammatory dialogue to justify tactics in defending public education when the race card was played in an attempt to trump and discredit me.

I was critical of the use of “white privilege” and the dismissal of white public school advocate voices as “whitesplaining,” as having the potential to alienate people on our own side. I also took issue with doubling down on the Tea Party with KKK references. After countering the assertion that “white privilege” and “whitesplainning” was something they experienced everyday, I responded that it could only be true if they were looking for it everyday. Then it happened. Being referenced as racist in a national semi-public forum is no small thing.

Accusing one of racism is easy, but usually intellectually dishonest. There isn’t a rubric or universal standard of measurement and the impossible task of proving otherwise is left to the accused. It has become a political tactic of the left as a way to marginalize and silence opponents and ends up suppressing dialogue. So effortlessly deployed today, real racism clearly based in hate gets short shrift. In the cynical zero-sum game of winning 24 hour news cycles, the race card has a perfect home.

But not among friends. And not as part of a mission statement belonging an organization which may be the last defense of our public education system.

My caution to leave personal politics at the door also seems to have been dismissed as  emerging group-think is gaining traction to embrace and advance racial themes which address grievances, old and new, real or perceived. To object is to be labeled an ostracized leprous denier. Or, well, a racist.

In my four years and 1500 posts about education policy, I’ve never written about myself. Never using first person pronouns, self-references came in the form of “this writer” or  Scathing Purple Musings. But the rollercoaster ride that began with the exhilaration of Austin has nose-dived into a state of mind I never believed possible. Disillusioned, I’ve begun wondering if I want to be associated with a group who uses “Big Tent” metaphors, yet applies the race card during disagreements and easily labels large numbers of people as racists who they oppose politically.

About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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10 Responses to Do I Belong in the Network for Public Education?

  1. rsolnet says:

    The Bob Sikes I’ve come to know dedicated his life to teaching, coaching, and being a role model for his students. Coach Sikes chose to work, and continues to work, in a very challenging,high poverty area which I’m assuming is close to 90% free and reduced lunch. The Bob Sikes I know celebrates whenever he sees even one student, black, brown or white, gain increased confidence or self esteem. He’s totally devoted to his students – totally. He’s a man with a great career who chose to return to teaching and coaching our most neediest children and then spend his “off hours” investigating, researching, and blogging on Florida’s education reforms. I was not privy to this unfortunate exchange and I don’t know what precipitated it. What I do know is Bob is not a man whom I would ever describe as “racist.” Being labeled racist is offensive and hurtful when it’s not true. It can rock someone to the core. It can even disillusion them to the point where we lose them in this fight for public education. Perhaps this is a situation of misunderstood semantics – perhaps this is a misunderstanding? Perhaps someday those involved will come to know the Bob Sikes I know. I pray to God that your students don’t lose you Bob and that we don’t lose your talents and drive either.

  2. Hannah says:

    Bob, I know it’s not quite the same; however, when I went to a gathering of public ed. activists, I spoke in a small group about the angst I’d had in a school situation, and the insult “whiny teacher” was thrown around when referencing any teacher who takes issue w/ teacher rights or lack of job security… suddenly, I wasn’t “about the kids,” and the implication was that if a teacher had any concern over their own situation, they were putting their own needs before the kids. What was most upsetting was that I was supposed to be in a gathering of folks who cared about public ed… and yet, obviously teachers weren’t an important factor in that gathering. It became one more situation where putting the kids first meant putting the teachers last. Suddenly, I felt that I no longer belonged working with this group, and now I don’t have interactions with them. I stick w/ BATs, because there, I can care about the kids AND care about my own situation as a teacher too… the ideas are not mutually exclusive. It hurts to be insulted in a place where you thought you belonged, where you thought you had like-minded folk with whom to connect. I hope you can find some peace, and know that what you do matters everyday… to your students, and to those of us who read your blog. From my teacher heart to yours… Peace.

  3. Mike Archer says:

    Sorry this happened. Sounds like someone got carried away and owes you an apology.

  4. I don’t know you personally, and I don’t think I need to in order to understand your perspective. We all rage against the corporate education reform machine, even though our points of origin are very different. There are any number of reasons to oppose the Common Core (or A-F Report Cards or retention mandates or VAM …), some of which do sound downright batty at times. That doesn’t mean we should silence the voices.

    On my own blog, I have engaged a number of people who differ from me socially, politically, and even ethically. I welcome the diversity. The common push among the loose network of Oklahoma bloggers seems to be that we want to restore local control of education. There seems to be support on the far left and far right for that principle. Since I’ve always seen myself as a moderate, it’s weird to see the murky middle as the place I’m trying to avoid now. One of the things that has attracted me to your blog is that it’s neither red nor blue.

    NPE would be less without your perspective. The pointed, yet constructive discourse you provide here is the main reason I have you on the list of national blogs I want Oklahoma education supporters to follow. Yours is a voice that informs so much of the resistance. I guess the danger of that is people taking your words and twisting them around into their own talking points. In this case, it seems an intellectual criticism has been badly interpreted.

  5. I have followed the thread on-line and have been a bit underwhelmed myself preferring not to comment. I would just add in every group there is a dunderhead or two and usually at happy hour it is me but that hasn’t stopped me and my friends from continuing to go as our love of beer transcends everything else. i hope that made sense.

  6. You know your own heart and motivations. That is simply a well worn tactic to anger you, to discredit you, to get you off point. Your response, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” There are many, many more that are supported by your message. Don’t let one person’s comment derail you.

  7. Dear Bob,

    I, too, was at the Network for Public Education conference and had many take-aways that I am still processing and trying to put down into words.

    I think it’s important when talking about these issues that we are able to have a dialogue. When that presenter, a person of color, spoke of the Tea Party in terms of racism, I don’t know that we can argue with his perception. Since the Tea Party confuses me, I can’t make any statements as to whether or not there is a “fact” to point to in terms of the Tea Party’s racism. They seem to be loosely organized. The polls I’ve seen seem to point to it being primarily white males. But more worrisome for me was the fact that they are funded by our “enemies” in this fight for public education, the Koch Brothers and organizations like Freedomworks. I saw this article about their funding as well: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brendan-demelle/study-confirms-tea-party-_b_2663125.html

    As a white woman I can’t really speak to the lived experience of a person of color (despite being married to a Latino man) in our racist society. I can say that I think that it is important to not be defensive about our status in this societal relationship of power. One of the big takeaways I got from NPE’s conference was that I have to be reminded continually to look outside of my lens to a broader perspective. In fact, after the conference I saw that the recent op-ed I had published ( http://www.nwitimes.com/news/opinion/columnists/guest-commentary/guest-commentary-political-influence-on-schools-affect-our-children/article_d1be2bc2-21d5-5561-b1fd-8abdaf93c1aa.html )
    here in Indiana was something that definitely wouldn’t speak to all parents. While I wrote about running carpool and the threat of losing gym, art, and music, there are parents in our rural areas and in our inner cities who haven’t seen those programs in years. There are parents who are working two jobs just to put bread on the table and only wish they could afford to carpool kids to soccer. I think the NPE conference was invaluable and humbling to me to make sure that when I think, when I write, when I discuss, I am mindful of just how broad our “tent” is. I want to know how to be more inclusive and mindful. It is important to have that big tent.

    But within this tent that you refer to, I am deeply concerned about whom we encompass. From my experience (albeit limited), we do not share the same goals with the Tea Party. Those I have interacted with (including and unfortunately, many of our Indiana legislators) are not concerned at all about public education. They are all about “choice” in schools. I see them as wanting to opt out of society and unconcerned with the common good, including our common schools. I am not interested in partnering with them to defeat the Common Core if they are going to then turn their energies into destroying public education. I have only seen them refer to public schools as “government schools” in a paranoid-sounding way.

    I am glad for this opportunity for frank discussion. I appreciate the attention you’ve given to issues of public education as so many of our own policies have come from your state (thanks a lot!). But I wanted to share my experience of NPE and the conference as being humbling and eye-opening and inspiring. Whether we like it or not, we are people of privilege in our society and I think it’s important to recognize that.

    • Cyndie Kottkamp says:

      “But within this tent that you refer to, I am deeply concerned about whom we encompass. From my experience (albeit limited), we do not share the same goals with the Tea Party.” So, you have taken it upon yourself to decide who is included in the dialog for public education??? Even though public education is funded by all taxpayers dollars? Really? How magnanimous of you. I am not a “tea party” person, but I am a Republican and surely considered by you, one of your ‘enemies”. Your statements prove to me that I am doing the right thing by sending my child to private school. I wouldn’t want someone like you influencing him.

      • Bob Sikes says:

        Actually, if you looked at my FB profile you’d have learned that I am a registered republican “with sanity.” At any rate, you obviously didn’t realize that my writing was focused on labeling Tea Party folks – and anybody else – as racist. Thanks for reading.

    • Bob Sikes says:

      Cathy: Thank you for taking the time to craft such a thoughtful response.

      I never stood for “encompassing’ anyone, I objected applying racial stereotypes to everyone. If public school advocates are to gain and maintain the high ground we cannot continue to label – even our most bitter opponents – with divisive language. As I emphasized in my own presentation, we are going realize the political aspects of the struggle. Using racially-charged political dialogue and themes is political tone deafness in its most fatal form.

      With respect to “white privilege,” the concept’s continued acceptance by white folk and application by black folk serves only to maintain racial divides. To continue to do so fails to embrace where real progress has occurred (just see who our youth interact in integrated schools) and clutches on to the horrible memories of the past.

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