Why a six-year-old from fifty years ago teaches us about education in California today


By Melissa Daar Carvajal

The images are still jarring. Tiny Ruby Bridges in 1960 arriving to go to school accompanied by the three US Marshalls under a torrent of taunts by a sneering crowd. Ruby walked in, took her seat in the classroom, and sat down to learn – making her mark in the world.

Ruby took that scary journey because it was those books, those teachers and that school that she wanted - to have the same rights as the other children in her nation. It is that kind of human spirit that makes great change. And it’s that kind of great spirit that we should be channeling in our outreach about recent education reforms across California school districts– but we’re not - yet.

Quick primer on the California’s education reforms for those not in the know: school districts have gained more local control of funding to serve kids – especially those who succeed least – and engage their parents in how do it best.

For those in the know: Ok, I know it’s more complicated than that - it’s not enough money to get even close to the kind of funding we need – and it’s just the beginning. I recognize all that, but here’s something else to consider:

We’ve been really focused on talking policies, requirements for planning, the July 1st deadline for the LCAP submission, parent engagement plans, and so forth. But if we want to reach parents, if we want to inspire them to join us in educating their kids, gaining their trust, involvement – it’s the values for which Ruby Bridges walked- not the deadlines, regulations, processes – that motivate us – parents and educators alike.

Where is our story? Public education is to poverty as health care is to sickness. Where is education’s CoveredCA campaign? Let’s start by going there. Take a look at this ad.

Through your participation in Covered California, you protect your family, you keep your kids safe. Let’s put that kind of message in our education outreach.  Where we say, by participating in our community’s education of your kids, you keep him safe, you keep her in school, and you secure a good future for your kids.  That’s not only true (see Ed Source’s recent report) but it means something to any parent, of any race, of any class – especially to those who are struggling to move up the American mobility ladder.

Let’s talk about American values where everyone willing to put in the effort gets a fair shot.  Tell the stories of involved parents. Broadcast in forums larger than community rooms. Let’s hear about their aspirations. And mobilize to make these reforms open a new chapter in education in California. Too challenging? What would Ruby Bridges do?

Let’s start talking a little bigger.

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