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Thoughts about Ferguson, Mo.

[I drafted the message below for Parents Across America, the national parent advocacy group of which MIPFS is a state affiliate. We thought it would also be appropriate to publish it here, as a reminder of why strong community-governed public schools are so important.]

As we think of the tragic death at police hands of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., our first reaction must be as parents: sorrow and anger. Sorrow because a promising life has been cut so cruelly short, and anger because his death was both unnecessary and sickeningly predictable.

Watching from outside, however, we have also seen in Ferguson problems that plague our nation still.

  • Michael Brown's death, far from being an isolated case, should finally destroy the convenient fiction that we have moved "beyond race," or that race and poverty do not represent real fault lines in our nation.
  • We see the impact of fear bred from isolation: police officers using deadly force against an unarmed citizen, and those who have pledged to "protect and serve" the public instead donning military equipment and using their weapons against that public as though in a war zone far from home.
  • We see the inevitable failure of authorities who do not represent, and do not feel accountable to, the community they supposedly serve. Likewise, we see the boiling anger of those who have been ignored for so long.

We have a powerful remedy to the fear born of isolation and separation: community-governed public schools, which can serve to knit together communities and serve as their investment in the future. But the schools in Ferguson have been a victim of the same forces at work across the country, which insist that private control is better than community governance; that segregation is acceptable as long as it is voluntary; that it's ok to demand that our money not be spent to help someone else's child. Cheaper is always better, we are told; schools are just for job training. And poverty is simply an excuse. But this simply is not true. Public schools help shape the citizens of the future. Public schools can help heal the wounds we still carry, or they can deepen them. Public schools can bring us together or drive us apart.

Does Ferguson, Missouri represent the future we really want?

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