President Diann Woodard: Why I Support Obama

Dear AFSA Member,

For as long as I can remember, I have always played school. I would gather a bunch of friends and head for the basement of our house where the heating coal was stored and I would teach. There I would imitate all the teachers who taught me.

I can recall how nice the teachers smelled; how colorful the room looked; how enthused they were to talk about their subject matter and just how much they cared that we learned the material.

Yes, I wanted to be a teacher even though I didn’t know quite what it would take to become one, or if I could ever realize my dream. I was just excited to play out my fantasy – all eyes forward; lots of information; helping others to understand.

My mom and dad were both born in the South, where my mom was prevented from completing the eleventh grade because she could not afford to pay her senior class fees. My dad only completed the third grade because he was needed in the fields. They spoke often of the poverty and the segregation they faced in the South.

The stories were never offered in malice, but rather to motivate us to do better and not to accept injustice. They strongly believed that you must stand up for yourself and exercise your right to vote; you must get a job and work hard and you must go to school and get a good education. They insisted that each of their children complete high school. I still recall my dad telling me that there were two things a girl could always get – a man and a car, but you only had one chance to get a good education.

Although I grew up in the Fifties and the Sixties, the script then read much the same as it does today. The country was polarized, in large part because the civil rights movement was flourishing, helping to ensure equity and access for African Americans.

There was an education race going on in the United States, too. Russia had landed a satellite, Sputnik, on the moon and the computer was in its infancy. The United States feared that schools in the USSR were superior to American schools and that there were not enough young minds being trained in mathematics and science for the job market.

Government recognized the need for change and it did what it needed to do to advance opportunities for the people. The National Defense Education Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act were passed by Congress – government interventions that made realizing our dreams possible. And, yes I benefited and realized my dream of becoming a teacher, and eventually became a principal.

I recount my experience to help you understand what’s at stake today for the futures of so many more little children that may be found “playing” school, doctor, actor, or business man – children dreaming of a chance to realize their dreams.

Like so many of us, President Obama believes in every little child’s dream. He understands what it means “to promote the general welfare” that is the founding vision of our democracy.

Yet the President’s chance to advance the vision of our Founding Fathers in a second term is being challenged by a man who is committed instead to slashing budgets for education and social well being while accelerating the pace at which our public schools are being privatized.

In fact, Mitt Romney is a man who recently made clear his disdain for government intervening to help the American people when he declared that “there are 47 percent who are … dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Incredibly, Mr. Romney concluded: “My job is not to worry about those people.”

His is a vision fundamentally at odds with what we as professional educators believe and have committed our lives to: providing public services that prepare all children to realize their dreams – especially those disadvantaged by circumstances for which they bear no responsibility whatsoever.

A child’s dream should not be limited by the color of his or her skin, the neighborhood

that he lives in or the schools he or she attend. President Obama understands the important role that education plays in helping children realize their dream of succeeding in America. Because of this, he has made education central to his 2013 budget, requesting an increase in K-12 funding.

His stimulus plan was used to create or save thousands of teachers’ jobs while he pushed for an increase in college Pell grants and eliminated for-profit lenders for college loans in favor of federally backed loans.

And, yes, he isn’t all the way there because he also believes in competition and choice, but at least he doesn’t promote supplanting public education with private industry, nor does he believe that college costs should remain outside the reach of so many children.

So, this election is about choices: the choice of helping dreams to come true or the choice to never dream at all; the choice of whether we simply cast our ballots in November or do all we can between now and then in our communities to ensure that our families, friends and neighbors understand that the President shares our fundamental vision for America and its children.

For I’m sure that all of us would hate to wake up the day after the election and see that the clock has been turned back 50 years to that time when I played in that basement room of my parents’ house; a time before our government invested in giving all children the opportunities that they desperately need to realize their dreams.

In solidarity,

Diann Woodard