Beth Milne is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

This essay was co-authored by Julio Fuentes, president & CEO of Hispanic CREO and Jason S. Crye, executive director of Hispanics for School Choice.

There’s an old Latin American saying:
Dime con quien andas y te diré quien eres.
“Tell me who you walk with and I will tell you who you are.“

This wisdom, lovingly shared by generations of Hispanic grandparents, focuses on substance and content of character, not their race, color, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. It could have been uttered by Dr. King.

The distinction seems to have been lost in the debate regarding so-called “minority” inclusion in the education reform world sparked by a recent article by Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Many seem to assume that for (mostly white) reformers to gain legitimacy within “minority communities,” they need to pivot left and ditch an agenda that has tried to help families in ways the left never could, given its historical political alliances.

Good debate. Let’s have it. Done right, it will make education reform better and smarter. Done badly, it might kill it.

One way to get it right is to drop the assumptions about where Hispanics fall within this debate.  It’s clear that both the left and the right agree by fiat that Hispanics will simply acquiesce to this leftward drift. The reform establishment seems all too willing to buy the premise that all minorities think alike.  

Talk about feeling like an ornament for the movement!

This isn’t just our perception. Roughly 20,535 words have been written about this issue since the New Schools Venture Fund Summit last month. The word “Latino” appears nine times – four times as part of “Black and Latino” and four times in two sentences discussing California. The word “Hispanic” appears exactly never.

These assumptions and this treatment demonstrate a colossal ignorance about Hispanics and a dangerous short-sightedness about education reform’s potential to change America.

Hispanics are indeed a minority in number, albeit now the largest minority in the country. However, that status does not imply that we march in lockstep with the perspective of other minority groups.

Hispanics do share views with other minority and ethnic groups on many things, but not everything and certainly not everything related to school reform.

What we are saying is “count us as us” — a distinct voice with our own point of view. We don’t fit nicely into a pre-packaged narrative. To think otherwise disserves the movement and cheapens the unique histories, struggles and experiences of each minority people. The reality is that no racial or ethnic group thinks in monolithic terms.

Without a doubt, the Hispanic community has also suffered the injustice of a public school system that has denied our children the opportunity to prosper in this country. The high school dropout rate among Hispanics is too high by any count. 

Our community is ravaged by a drug war that extends directly onto our neighborhood street corners. Gangbangers prey upon our youth, seducing them with an illegitimate support network that’s missing in neighborhood schools, and, at times, our homes. Violence is all too real for our children. And yes, police abuse also exists in our midst. We don’t need to search too far to find a disdain for Hispanics in America when leading presidential candidates refer to Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers.

However, ours is hardly a community that has embraced a left-of-center victim ideology that passes for mainstream these days. In fact, the Hispanic community has, time and again, shown to lean more conservative on most social issues.

And when it comes to school reform, Hispanics overwhelmingly support choice—charter schools as well as the dreaded v-word that reformers have also abandoned: vouchers.

Hispanic parents support policies that promote the structured and disciplined school environment that charters and other successful school models champion.  Accountability and testing find strong support among Hispanic parents who willfully opt in. Family, respect, responsibility and work ethic are all common themes that run through most Hispanic households across America.

We support these things not because they are left or right, but because they reflect our values and are products of our own experience.

Even so, reformers now seem eager to retreat from policies that our community has embraced and has benefited from for over two decades. These are policies that have led to empirical outcomes, not irrational excuses.

We can’t speak for other minorities, nor should we, nor can we even speak for every Hispanic person. However, one thing is clear: assuming that simply including a leftist rhetorical flair to our discussion somehow covers the minority bases smacks of being reactionary at best, pandering at worst.

We Hispanics do have our own set of grievances with the education reform movement, but it is not over content, direction, policy or even an approach to learning. School reform has indeed served our community well, and we want more of it.

Our grievance is in being relegated to an afterthought status, called upon only as a gesture of political correctness or box-checking. This backward thinking misses the point—and the opportunity—to demonstrate that our community is a strategic right-of-center ally in a movement that has common detractors. How this manifests itself is through funding, resources and influence, not symbolic gestures. No apologies needed, just an expectation that we will deliver a quality product.

The future of the movement is not to guilt its founders into submission, but to build on its success and challenge a new minority leadership to step up, and more importantly, to catch up to its own community. As a minority, that is our responsibility.

There is another saying in Latin America – Separa el grano de la paja. Loosely translated into English, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

The movement should heed the advice of our wise grandparents. Those abuelos y abuelas knew what they were talking about.


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