08/14/2013 03:46 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2013

Educating the Youngest New Yorkers: It's Political and Personal

I'd like to revisit the important feminist insight that the personal is political.

In the age of Facebook, the personal and the political now intersect in the virtual identities or personal pages we create.

For instance, interspersed with photos of my kids playing on the beach and of my dog meeting a turtle in Central Park, I post, share, and like dozens of messages from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio's campaign for Mayor of New York City. "The Daily News reports that Bill de Blasio leaps to first place in a recent poll," I exclaim. "The Nation endorses Bill de Blasio," I share. "Harry Belafonte backs Bill de Blasio." "Come meet Howard Dean in Brooklyn as he supports Bill de Blasio," I urge. Some of my friends may even think my "personal" has become too political lately.

Hooey. The digital age offers an opportunity to re-inject the political into the space of a personal photo album and to re-imagine the personal life-line as it engages with the community and the body politic. I want to applaud Gloria Steinem, a pioneer of raising our awareness of the interweaving of personal and political, on receiving the Presidential Medal of Honor. (I'm such a fan that when I once met her I was so star struck that all I could manage to utter was a tongue-tied "thank you.") But I have to say, when it comes to the candidate for the next mayor, I think Gloria Steinem got it wrong.

Don't misunderstand me -- I would love to see a woman mayor. I would love to see a lesbian mayor. Women's rights, safety, and justice underpin my very being. I fully appreciate the powerful message our next generation of girls would receive growing up with a female mayor of our powerful city.

That said, I think a candidate's agenda and history -- voting record, actions taken, plans for future governance -- trump identity politics. Quinn's role in allowing Bloomberg -- and only Bloomberg -- to run for a third term deeply unsettles my understanding of the democratic process. I do not think that leaders, however able or rich they may be, should be able to circumvent election rules, especially to ensure their own power.

Moreover, in addition to being a woman and a feminist, I am also a parent. My personal experience with the DOE and New York City public schools since 2004 informs my politics: I don't think public school children will be well served by continuing the Bloomberg administration's policies on education.

Parents are reeling from the news that standardized test scores have plummeted in New York City (although we families are not yet permitted to see our kids' scores). Despite the months in which we helped our kids slog through hours of take-home practice exams, made sure they ate breakfast, calmed their nerves, and learned to fill in bubbles properly with a number 2 pencil, they may have failed the tests. Our schools gave up classroom hours that could have been devoted to art, musical instruction, and scientific experimentation so that they could cram in more test prep. Nevertheless, many hard-working children will discover that they have not mastered the so-called standards or "core curriculum" that will, presumably, ensure their future success.

Most public school parents concur that our current mayor has been lousy on education. I actually applaud Bloomberg on many fronts -- his support of the arts, the environment, gun regulation, and gay rights. But his dismissive attitude of parents and educators in favor of a business model that profits testing corporations has wasted valuable time and resources at the children's expense. If public school parents are unhappy, do you really think it's because we don't want our kids to succeed? Of course not. Parents and educators simply see through the veil of "helping" kids through employing corporations that profit at the expense of genuine engaged learning and critical thinking.

Bill de Blasio, on the other hand, if elected, will be both a NYC public school parent and the mayor. He understands the myriad of educational issues from diverse perspectives. And he has a plan to make universal free pre-K available for all New York City children. By imposing a tax on the rich, the city can fund a program that would help all children begin kindergarten on a more even playing field with tools to help ensure greater success. It also would provide after-school activities for middle school children. (Those making over $500,000 a year would pay approximately an extra $2,000 to fund the program).

I'm not only writing to parents. I'm writing to compassionate New Yorkers (yes, despite the reputation, most New Yorkers are actually compassionate) who still harbor a post-traumatic fear of the city's descent into chaos and financial ruin of 1970s and think that continuing Bloomberg's agenda will ensure success and prosperity. But the continued financial success for only the top 1 percent will not lead to New York's prosperity. Rather, if we neglect the working majority, then we weaken the very fabric of our uniquely diverse city. The country understood this when we elected President Obama in the last election; the lesson also applies to New York City. Bill de Blasio articulates how New York has become a "tale of two cities" and how he will reverse that widening gulf.

In fact, Bill de Blasio's plan to invest in pre-K and middle school after-school is an investment in all of our futures, not only those of us with children in the public schools. One encounter I had this spring encapsulated the issue for me. I agreed to canvas near an elementary school to get signatures to put the Public Advocate on the mayoral ballot. (A mandatory process for all candidates.) "Are you interested in learning about Bill de Blasio's plan for free universal pre-K?" I asked as I approached people with a bright smile.

"I'm done with Pre-K," a mother replied disdainfully, "but what can you do about classroom size in elementary schools?" I wanted to answer her that I too, was "done" with pre-K. My kids weren't even in elementary school anymore. I could have mentioned that in a number of years, she will be helped, personally, by de Blasio's plan for after-school activities for middle school children. But in fact, the real answer is that none of us is "done" with pre-K. We are a collective -- a city of interwoven lives where the personal is political for all of us. If we widen the circle to improve early education for those without the financial advantages, then the body politic thrives. That mother didn't see the political in her personal focus on own children's current educational needs. But it is through attention to politics and to the fact that we all live, work, and learn together that we ensure a better world. Before the progress of feminism, many individual women found themselves isolated and trapped in homes, marriages and lives. Gloria Steinem encouraged women to join together and emerge into the public and onto the political stage. As September 10 approaches, I am using my digital tools to suggest a reevaluation of the ties between the personal and the political. The future is tied to our children -- and all of our children need to be genuinely educated, not only those whose families can afford for them to attend pre-K. Then young girls really have something to look forward to.