The following is a continuation of a profile of Myrdin Thompson – in her own words — a parent advocate/consultant for Family Engagement in Education. A delegate to Mom Congress, Myrdin lives in Louisville, Kentucky, but she is a role model for parents everywhere. She is an avid tweeter (@MyrdinJT), and writes a blog about parent engagement and education issues, http://www.rootsandwingslibrary.com/.
What have you learned from your involvement and what is the most important lesson you would like to share with other parents?
So much! But yet I feel that there is so much more to learn! By reading your blog, by participating in a webinar or conference call, by reading a book or article, I sometimes do feel overwhelmed and think, how do I communicate what I know with others so that they can better engage in some way with education in their community? I’ve learned that there are no “un-engaged” parents but “under-engaged” parents. That even if we don’t have the same experiences in education (my children have all had amazing teachers and opportunities, but that isn’t true for friends of mine in the same school) if we acknowledge those experiences as valuable (even if it was negative) then we can work together so that the best is celebrated and the worst is eliminated.
I hope I have learned to be a more active listener. Sometimes when you are passionate about an issue or cause you often fail to “hear” someone else’s message. I also have learned to be more proactive than reactive to issues/concerns. Sometimes you can’t help but react (like when Congress decides pizza sauce is a vegetable) but other times you can be proactive: create a workshop to help other parents, write a blog, participate in a book drive. We can all do something — it doesn’t have to be the same something — but it has to be something.
One of my favorite quotes is by Herman Melville: “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” I want my children to one day say, “My mom gave her best to a cause, and as an effect we (including their classmates and other students in their school community) were better prepared for college and career, to be more connected with our world, respectful and caring for one another, and always advocating for the very best educational opportunities for everyone.”
Describe your recent visit to Washington, D.C.
Because Mom Congress meets once a year (in May/April), many of us stay connected virtually via twitter or Facebook. Some of us thought that we needed a “mid-term” session to reconnect with one another as well as support all the various projects and causes we are all engaged with. I had contacted with Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s office because I knew that he was going to be in Louisville, KY, presenting a keynote at a Middle Schools conference. Although my request to meet with the secretary was denied (not enough time in his understandably busy schedule) it did facilitate a connection with other Department of Education staff.
Those discussions led to a meeting in Washington, D.C., for any Mom Congress delegates who were able to attend. At the same time the ESEA [Early Assessment and Support Alliance] markup hearings were taking place. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) had stalled the proceedings and asked for another hearing, a hearing which would have parents testify. It was coincidental that the meeting with the DOE was on a Monday and that the next day the hearing was to take place. Although parents didn’t testify at the hearing, several Mom Congress delegates (as well as other parents and students) were in attendance. While I didn’t get a chance to meet with Sen. Paul, I have been able to start a conversation with one of his staffers and hope to meet with him again in January (when we have tentatively scheduled a follow-up meeting with the Department of Education).
What advice would you give parents who are sitting on the fence?
I understand that sometimes we just feel overwhelmed and inundated with information. We get notes and emails from our children’s schools about picture day, fall festival, and field trips. We try to help with homework, even when we don’t understand eighth grade math ourselves. We watch the news, read a blog, attend a meeting or workshop. We hear that school lunches are going to change but we don’t know what that really means. And sometimes we just feel frozen — that there is just TOO MUCH going on to make a difference in any of it, not just on behalf of our own child or children, but for their classmates, their schools, the community. I know. I feel that way too at times. But I have learned the power of five. Five minutes to respond to an action alert or make a phone call. Fifty minutes to read books with or even in front of your kids. Five hours (and not all in a row!) to start and complete a project. And if you get five friends to spend those five minutes, then that has five times the impact as the one call you made.
It isn’t about the big splash in what you do, it’s just about doing something — we all can contribute and every contribution counts. I also know that while sitting on the fence change is happening. It might not be dramatic, it might not show up this year or even the next, but change in education is taking place. So instead of reacting to that change, be a proactive part of the change. Five minutes. That’s about as long as it takes to login to Facebook and post a photo or send a “tweet.” But those five minutes might just change the next five years for your child. Don’t let someone else decide those next five years for you.
Are you pessimistic or optimistic about the future of education?
I am incredibly optimistic. I may not like the direction in which some of the discussion concerning education on a national level goes sometimes, but I am glad that a discussion is taking place and that I can be a part of it. There is an electricity that hasn’t been felt before.
Parents are waking from a long slumber and noticing that while they were sleeping the landscape changed. It may not always be easy, and there are days when I feel like going back to bed and pulling the covers over my head, but then my daughter dances and sings her way into my room, and I know that I am doing this for her. That by challenging the status quo I make it possible for her to perhaps not have to when she is a parent. But if she does, I know what advice I would give her: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself”(John Dewey) and that every child deserves the very best education and the very best life.
So we can either be adversaries or allies in this process of change, but we must be something because change is here, it is happening, and we can’t go back to bed.
What would you like to see fixed in public schools?
Years of research, data, articles and books have led us to this conclusion: parents actively involved in education make a difference. And that activity doesn’t always have to take place in the school. It is about trusting and respecting that parents are the experts when it comes to raising their children. In addition, it is clear that despite all the wealth of information that is easily accessible by school leadership, it isn’t being used in a productive way. A school community needs to ask all participants (students, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, community members), “What are we trying to accomplish?” If it is to create a college and career-ready student, then we need to address the inadequacies that currently exist without parceling out blame, address the strengths or assets that currently exist, and move forward together with a shared vision. We need also to acknowledge that parents are an untapped resource and should be used for more than raising funds. Clear, continuous communication is also key. But that communication must be honest and forthright. We are a community of learners, where with mutual support we can achieve goals together which benefit not just the students but all of us.
Education is not just a K-12 or pre-K-college commitment, it is a lifetime endeavor. If we share that belief with one another, creating learning connections and partnerships, we will be able to transform education, one school at a time.
Hope this helps! And by the way, when I speak of parents, I mean family members, legal guardians or other adults acting in a parental role.
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