My Story

May 4, 2017, 9:54am

I woke up this morning from a dream about the American Public Education System. I was crying, and realized I was on a Leslie Knope-style path for the career I have decided to pursue: Secretary of Education.

I’ve been in public school since the first grade, starting at Pflugerville Elementary. I was a GT (gifted and talented) student, I competed in local academic competitions such as Destination Imagination, Math Pentathalon, and UIL. My second grade teacher was a “volunteer GT teacher,” as the school I was enrolled at had not been expecting to have any GT kids, and she was the only one who raised their hand to offer to host me, and the one other GT kid on campus. We moved in third grade, to a neighborhood across town where the “schools are better, kids are nicer, you can ride your bike…” I’m sure you’re familiar with the Masterplanned Community ads. There, I really did have a GT class, and there were two or three GT teachers per grade level. We had factions of sorts, the “Winkler kids” and the “Thomison kids.” The competition and wide arch of our learning set us apart from our peers in the classrooms, we may have been separated by designated teacher, but we all came together in the Pflex room.

My brother was not GT. He was gifted, yes, he could follow instructions and patterns very quickly, has excellent coordination, is polite and patient and is a Hide and Seek master, but he was not “talented” in the sense my district was looking for. He was stuck in the classrooms, doing regular lessons with regular kids, who just filled in the gaps not taken by the GT crowd when we actually were in our designated rooms. Connor would have been a Winkler kid. Instead, while I came home saying, “Mom, guess what, I did this really cool project today where we took Egyptian characters and created a new alphabet!” Connor would come home saying, “Hey, Mom, guess what? I was only hit once today!”

It didn’t matter that “the school” was better, or “the kids” were nicer, or “you could ride your bike,” it only mattered that because my brother didn’t think the same way I do, he was left to suffer through lectures and assignments far below his capacity. Connor wasn’t given a chance to shine until High School, when AP came around.

And maybe he won’t have that anymore next year.

The current Secretary of Education, Betsy DesVos, is spearheading a legislative campaign including the end of AP courses due to cuts to academic funding. This is preposterous and unacceptable and in the most clear and direct word, unamerican. Education is the foundation of our society. Knowledge is power and a nation without education is powerless. That’s why dictatorships rise – the people don’t know what they’re seeing, and let it happen all around them, and by the time someone who knows something has spoken up to say, “Hey, does this seem right to you?” It’s far too late to stop the political and social tides at work. Having a whole and healthy and safe society means having a society that is aware, responsive, and knowledgeable of its status and responsibility. In the current direction America is heading, we will be none of those things very soon.

That’s what I saw in my dream. A parking lot full of people running away from something, none of them understanding the nature of the Something, none of them able to speak or explain or relate the situation. The concept of a Free and Appropriate Public Education was out the window, as in this world, the only importance was Free. That’s the world I live in, that’s our world, this world, right now. Something is coming with the tides of change, and I want to be ready for it, but it’s useless to be ready alone. I want my Thomison kids to be ready, and my Winkler kids, and my brother, and my neighbors and friends and every little toddler cousin I see at the summer reunion. I want inner city kids and country kids and kids in towns that don’t appear on maps unless you’re Googling it, to be ready. Change does not mean necessarily for the worse, it may be for the better. A wave of positive change without a society to respect, appreciate, and implement the change, is useless.

Let not America be useless in its own borders. If we cannot be successful here, we cannot be successful anywhere.

Dear Future Presidents, I’m VL Gaffney, and I want to be your Secretary of Education.

So, call, or something.