Prioritizing Children's Education Can Bridge Our Divides
As 2020 comes to a close, there is a sense of hope tinged with anxiety held by many. For some, the upcoming year represents an opportunity for change: a new year and a new administration.
Like many families watching the Vice President Elect’s acceptance speech last month, I was deeply moved – witnessing the moment through the eyes of my daughters. They will not have to grow up in a world where people will wonder if a woman will ever be elected to office in the White House. Kamala Harris’ words, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” will resonate with the daughters of our country for all time.
Yet, we should also be aware that there are millions of Americans who felt a sense a loss from the election: coworkers, neighbors and family members have had to endure one of the most contentious and divided political seasons that we’ve ever known. It reminds us that, as passionate as you might feel about a candidate, there will be tens of millions of others who feel differently. These are people who are also worried about their families and communities. These are voters who also have a stake in what happens next. With 2020 behind us, many are left wondering how we move forward in a spirit of graciousness, healing, and compromise? How can the new Biden-Harris administration usher in reconciliation?
The answer is equitable policies that hold the most affected communities at the center. This doesn’t require compromising on principles or shifting positions on the political compass – but it does require a new mindset that transcends partisan politics. It isn’t centrism; it is centering what matters. It means that we will actively prioritize the needs of youth and families so that the potential of our children will not be dictated by race, ethnicity, zip code, or circumstances. It means that the price of divided politics will not be paid for by children.
We know that there are practical, universal solutions that can heal a divided nation. We’ve seen how seemingly-divided communities in Minnesota can work together to pass bipartisan legislation when we work together to ensure the success of kids and families. From Florida to Oregon, we’ve seen record turnout to support ballot initiatives that improve outcomes, from cradle to career, for every child.
While we have lived through a year of uncertainty, it also clear that there are few things we must hold with certainty. These are common goals that can bring communities together:
• First, we need to stop politicizing data, especially when it contradicts a position that we’ve been taught to hold. It is important to measure outcomes accurately. You shouldn’t throw out the scale if you are unsatisfied with the results; you change the dietary patterns and exercise habits that got you there. At StriveTogether, we use a framework of evidence-based decision making and shaped by a shared community vision that helps overcome any disagreements.
• Second, we have to prioritize people over politics and extend the same dignity to others that we would expect for ourselves. It is difficult to heal from trauma without truth telling. The Spartanburg City Council has demonstrated the power of this when they unanimously approved a resolution to acknowledge systemic racism and to apologize to Black community members for the persistent inequities caused by past city policies. Not only did this help validate the experience of members of the community, but it increased civic engagement and a new sense of healing in the city.
• Finally, it is essential to prioritize the needs of our community over the circus of politics. Stacey Abrams once said, “I am not optimistic or pessimistic. I am determined.” Even though the global pandemic upended systems and priorities in 2020, we’ve found that some communities, like Rocky Mountain Partnership, were able to rally together to turn things around because they were hyper-focused on outcomes for the families in their area.
Looking for ways to heal and work together doesn’t mean we ignore our society’s problems. We know that the legacy of white supremacy still needs to be eradicated in our communities. We know that we still need to overcome challenges created by under-resourcing health and education. These aren’t partisan issues; these are truths and certainties that will continue to impact families for generations to come. What we do with these truths is our responsibility. The new year offers an opportunity for us to fulfill that responsibility.
For those who feel that we are hopelessly divided, we do well to remember that hope isn’t something to be found. It is something that is created through persistence and intention. Our “center” isn’t in the halfway point between political poles. It is in the future of our children. When we prioritize our communities and our children, everyone wins.