This past weekend I attended my first PTA legislative assembly, a gathering of representatives from local units in Washington State to decide what positions the 140,000 members of PTA in our state will take on issues over the next year. Sending someone to legislative assembly is not something my PTA has typically done in the past, but attending has given me a whole new vision of what PTA can be. It has the potential to be really powerful. Some would argue that it already is but I think it’s up to each of us to ensure that.
My PTA has done a lot of great things for our school, building teacher morale, providing equipment and supplies for teachers and classrooms, maintaining the track, purchasing playground equipment, helping the school get prepared for emergencies, planning fun events, and supporting curriculum goals with events like an arts day or bringing a science van full of exhibits to the school.
But sitting there in that assembly full of passionate activists, it became increasingly clear how much more we could do if we put our minds to it and got back to our roots. PTA was originally started as an advocacy organization long before all the popcorn-making and fundraising and I think that original purpose often gets lost. A recurring theme of the weekend was that we can do so much more for our kids through large-scale legislative change than we could ever do selling wrapping paper. There’s not enough wrapping paper in the world to fix the problems in education but there just might be enough passionate advocates in PTA to do it.
The motto of PTA is “Every Child. One Voice.” The sentiment is that we can raise our collective voices in support of every child in this country. I’ve heard and read criticism of PTA for not accurately representing every child because so many communities, particularly at-risk communities, do not have the means or the desire to participate in PTA. Then we get together and vote on the official policy positions of Washington State PTA, when not every demographic in Washington State is represented.
This is fair criticism. The legislative assembly and even basic PTA membership can be cost-prohibitive. Not every voice was at the table this weekend. I will say, however, that those missing voices were on the minds and in the discussions of everyone who was there. It was a group of people intensely concerned with doing right by every child in the state. Several times I heard comments from parents who said things like, “This may not be the answer for my child but I think we need to do it because it’s the answer for so many other children who don’t have a voice,” or, “We need to be thinking about those who are most at risk, those with the greatest need.”
Hearts were in the right place and opinions were all over the map. I sat through several hours of education sessions followed by caucus meetings, followed by intense debate and then voting on issues. Emotions ran high as people were brought to tears by the fierceness of their convictions and the tenderness of their experiences.
There were some very close votes but, in the end, we came to some decisions about what we want the mission of our state PTA to be over the next year. I have this feeling that everyone will study and learn and experience and evaluate over the next twelve months, and when we meet again we may reverse some of our decisions. Because we’re all learning and growing, and debating our way to an uneasy consensus. I think it’s okay that it’s not easy and a little bit messy at times. If we’re purporting to be the voice of every child in this state, then we can never rest easy or settle so firmly into our own opinions that we aren’t willing to change if it’s in the best interests of our kids.