By Wilhelmina Yazzie, lead plaintiff in the Yazzie/Martinez v. New Mexico lawsuit.
(This op-ed appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican)
When it comes to providing a quality education for every child in New Mexico, the stakes are too high for the “wait and see” approach the Santa Fe New Mexican takes in its recent editorial (“Educators must take the lead in reforms,” Our View, March 24).
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she wants a “moonshot for education.” As the lead plaintiff in the Yazzie/Martinez v. state of New Mexico lawsuit, I, too, dream of a moonshot for my children and for all of New Mexico’s children. I am of the Diné (Navajo) tribe and we view our children as “sacred.” They are the heart of our existence, and it is our responsibility to prepare them for iiná, what we call “life” in my language.
Our state constitution mandates that the state of New Mexico is responsible for providing a sufficient education for all students. The state has not followed through on its obligation, and in her court ruling on our lawsuit, Judge Sarah Singleton agreed.
The Legislature had a chance this session to change course, but it did not go nearly far enough. The funding increases for public education passed in this legislative session only serve to backfill budgets and do not even return basic school programming to 2008 levels. They will not adequately cover the critical programs needed to improve outcomes for all students — especially for our Native American children, our Latino/Hispanic children, our English language learners, our low-income children and our children with special needs.
My children’s schools do not have enough textbooks. Our teachers do not have basic classroom supplies. When it comes to testing, my children do not score at grade level, despite getting good grades and being on honor roll. My children do not receive enough academic support and resources to get them ready for these tests, and they have to pass these tests to graduate. Our schools have limited after-school programs and tutoring.
Our schools also lack one of the most important teachings for our youth — cultural and language education. It is imperative that we bring culturally relevant programs and resources into our schools, especially at a time like this. Our children are yearning for their identity and values, and others are searching for acceptance.
Being culturally connected to our language and culture help us find purpose and guidance; it gives us confidence and motivation to excel in all that we do. It also teaches our children our way of life and the meaning of our existence, gives us pride in who we are and where we come from. It also teaches non-Native children and educators our history and with that knowledge brings respect for one another and creates hózhó (peace) between all people that we interact with. That is the path to balance and harmony.
I am asking our state and our lawmakers to address all these issues; to act upon the court’s ruling and honor the constitutional rights of our students. We need pre-K for every student. We need more multilingual teachers, and they deserve better pay. All classrooms should have access to textbooks, technology and other basic resources. Our children should be our first priority. They are the next generation, and all I want is for my children, your children, our children to receive the quality education that they deserve.
To transform our public education system, it will take the dedication and cooperation of every member of our community— from tribal leaders to educators and experts to parents. We need everyone at the table if we are to succeed at what is most important to us: helping our children realize their dreams.