Education as Freedom

One of the most influential readings I encountered as a graduate student was Amartya Sen's Development as Freedom. In it, he argues that economic development is really about helping people to develop their capabilities as individuals, and requires political freedom and transparency, freedom of opportunity and protection from abject poverty.

His thinking has dramatically affected how I think about everything that elected leaders do, because to my way of thinking, the role of public leaders is to help people to develop themselves, and become the people they want to be.

I am running for Oakland School Board because I believe strongly in the key role of public institutions in helping people to get the skills and tools they need to be successful. It is the same reason I serve on the Oakland Library Advisory Commission, and volunteer with the Friends of my local branch library. Public schools and libraries are our best tools as a society in helping our most vulnerable people to get the information and skills-building they need to develop themselves.

We still have a long way to go in the Oakland schools in helping students use the schools to develop their capabilities. There are well-known and longstanding issues around the lack of transparency and responsiveness on the part of the district administration, and a lack of meaningful and sustained ways for the public to be engaged in district decision-making. Even the School Board has difficulty getting the information they need from the district. Fixing this is essential to ensuring that any resources diverted from classrooms and students are being well spent to support students.

We also know that while Oakland boasts of some excellent schools, too many students are attending schools that are persistently low-performing. This speaks to Sen's point of freedom of opportunity. Creating opportunity for all students requires us to have great, accessible schools in every neighborhood in Oakland. It is not enough to have some good options, because students compete for those seats and many lose. This is a moral issue; as leaders we are obligated to ensure that every child has a quality school.

Finally, we know that many students in Oakland are subject to abject poverty. Expecting that schools alone can address all the needs of these students is unrealistic and a recipe for failure. We have to work at every level - citywide, statewide and nationally - to secure more resources for services for poor families. We have to think about better integrating city and district resources, and have to look for additional revenue sources as well as for ways to reorient district services toward better supporting families. But most of all, we have to commit to addressing this need for services over the long term, and recognize that the context in which Oakland's kids are growing up inevitably affects their academic performance.

If elected to the Oakland School Board, I will work tirelessly in these three areas - providing greater transparency and access to district decision-making, addressing the opportunity gap by focusing relentlessly on the persistently low-performing schools, and by identifying ways to help families in poverty, as a way to help their children arrive at school more ready to learn.

Amartya Sen called his manifesto Development as Freedom, and he was right, but how do we get development? Through education. And so, this is my manifesto - Education as Freedom.

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