Here are some nuggets from Netroots Nation: the Parents Caucus was well-attended with between 30 and 35 people. I have hosted the panel five years in a row, and this was one of the better attended caucuses, including more men and even a couple of vocal dads. It was thrilling.
What did we discuss? First, we had everyone in the room introduce themselves. We had parents obviously, and they were writers, educators, lawyers, accountants, school board members and folks running for office. I was inspired by Krystal Ball -- "yes, my parents did that to me," she joked -- a mom to a two-year-old girl who is running for Congress in Virginia. Her husband, Jonathan, was one of our outspoken dads, who, you could tell was so supportive of his wife. He made a book suggestion about a family-friendly workplace, which I plan to read: Maverick by Ricardo Semler.
We then had our trivia challenge. We were able to use the trivia data on (the lack of) paid parental leave, paid sick days and a social safety net for families in our country to launch a discussion. One of our moms very eloquently pointed out that there are moms out there who don't even have the luxury of thinking about it, yet, we must not forget them when we fight for policy change. (Amen!)
We ended our talk by exchanging resources and business cards. I urged the parents in the room to sign up for MomsRising's online action alerts, my blog MotherTalkers and my co-host's blog Momocrats. Also, the White House has an initiative to bring flextime to workers, including working with businesses to implement it.
Other great resources mentioned at the caucus were the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, Women and Work, Center for Working Families, and the National Education Association, which has a Facebook page speaking out against school budget cuts and informing the public on education bills.
I also attended the education caucus, which was moderated by National Education Association Vice President Lily Eskelsen. Next week, I plan to run a question and answer interview I conducted with Eskelsen. In the meantime, here are some quotes and tidbits that came out of the meeting:
Eskelsen on budget cuts: We have worked to save up to 300,000 teaching jobs. We keep hearing that times are tough, but you only get one year to be a high school senior. If they have cut your French teacher, and you need that foreign language to get into college, you are going to be hurting....They (legislators) think we can be leaner, and it is the kids who are suffering.
Eskelsen on No Child Left Behind: No Child Left Untested...this is bigger to me than the jobs....What's at stake is what it means to teach and what it means to learn. People will refer to themselves as "reformers" but it's a corporate term....The only thing that matters is you privatize and you deregulate. This is the model that has brought us to the economic crisis we are in right now....We want whole child reform. (By "whole child reform," she met a rich curriculum that went beyond multiple-choice tests and helped build children's knowledge and character.)
Eskelsen on the importance of teacher unions: (She asked her students to "build your perfect teacher.") (My students tell) me that person is caring, fun, smart. They wanted someone who can care about their interests, and someone who doesn't assume they know everything about them. A learner. "I don't want a teacher who thinks she knows everything," one student says...I asked my students to "pretend you are a laywer and have to defend (NCLB)...."A standarized test doesn't measure everything," one student says. "I bet you could cheat on the test." One guy says, "My least favorite teacher was my AP teacher, but I was smart enough to do well in spite of the teacher. Why should that teacher get rewarded?" They got it. Why can't the Senate, the Congress, the Secretary of Education get it? This is not rocket science.
Other tidbits from the education caucus: Many parents stood up and complained about school budget cuts that have affected all aspects of student life, like, the lack of buses to go to school, scrapped breakfasts, which for low-income students, is the only way they can eat breakfast, and lack of technology for students and technology training for teachers.
Educators in the classroom decried the "corporatization" of education in the way of running schools like private businesses with mass firings and re-hirings of teachers, standardized testing, and the creation of for-profit charter schools that carefully select their students and do so at the expense of traditional public schools. Our mom, who serves on a school board in a small rural district in California, expressed dismay at the way companies are making money off standardized tests and their accompanying textbooks.
In terms of important education bills, Eskelsen urged everyone in the room to call their representatives in support of a bill that would save teaching jobs. She said that No Child Left Behind needed to be revamped so that teachers did not have to kill all joy in education by non-stop drilling and teaching to the test. She was also critical of President Obama's "Race to the Top" plan to raise student achievement, which is detailed on NEA's website. Unlike President Obama, Eskelsen said she supports a cap on the number of charter schools so that they are run by qualified educators and held accountable.
Stay tuned for my interview with Eskelsen next week...