What do Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Juan Williams and Cory Booker have in common? Well, for one, they all spoke at the recent American Federation for Children (AFC) Summit in Jersey City, New Jersey. But, more significantly, at the summit, each openly and passionately shared their own personal stories through family reflections that led them to have a deep and abiding commitment to the education of our kids.
Governor Christie reflected on his parents' decision to move when he was a child so that he and his siblings could attend some of the better schools in New Jersey. He spoke of his parents' hopes and dreams for himself and his siblings and their willingness to do whatever they could to give them a good education. Similarly, Governor Jindal shared his own experiences growing up with parents who were committed to watching him excel in his education. Governor Jindal relayed how, as the son of immigrants, he understood first-hand the opportunities that were available in America, but only through hard work. Jindal related the taskmaster trait of his father, something he appreciates now more than he did when he was young. Jindal has adopted his parents belief that education is the gateway to the future and that all Americans should have an equal opportunity to access a quality education.
Then there was my friend Juan Williams, who shared his personal story of his own struggle to achieve a quality education when he spoke about his mother's dedication to seeing her son succeed. Only educated to a fourth grade level, Juan's mother always wanted more for her children. Juan's mother worked hard to get him in a highly regarded private school so he could have a better life.
Finally, Newark Mayor Cory Booker shared the heartbreaking story of how his parents put it all on the line so that their children could attend a school outside of their neighborhood. When they tried to move in order to place Cory in a better school, they were unable to because of the color of their skin. But his parents were determined. Only after getting a lawyer were they able to move into a neighborhood with a good school system. Cory has become a leader of the urban education reform movement because he understands that a zip code should not determine the outcome of one's future. Mayor Booker also understands the clear civil rights component to the education reform movement.
In articulating their own stories, each of these men spoke passionately in support of parental school choice. Yes, they support school system reform. Indeed, Governors Jindal and Christie have championed performance pay and other education reforms, but their collective words bring into focus the 'fierce urgency of now' need for school reform, reminiscent of the civil rights movement of the sixties. In other words, we can't wait for schools to get better while we continue to lose kids. We must act now by immediately implementing education reforms for kids in low-performing schools.
This need extends beyond race, class or partisan politics. The beauty of the words spoken by these men at the AFC conference was that they were delivered with sincerity as a result of their own life experiences. Indeed, I have long believed that we will fix education only when our leaders have a personal commitment to the education of our nation's children that mirrors the commitment they have for the education of their own kids. After hearing these men speak, I know that at least some of our leaders are moving in the right direction.