116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
This January in my hometown of Waterloo the 1619 Freedom School opened in the renovated, former Free Mason temple which as a Catholic, I find ironically amusing.
The school is obviously named after the infamous book “The 1619 Project” by Waterloo native and fellow West High graduate, Nikole Hannah-Jones. There are many disputed historical claims made in the piece, with the central point being that the the 13 original American colonies went to war in order to preserve slavery.
It seems fair to say that Jones is one of the most famous people to come out of Waterloo and when I heard that she was going to open a school downtown, I was pretty pumped. To be clear, I think the ‘1619 project’ as a concept is a factually bankrupt, activist nightmare that should be read with a critical eye.
Rarely do people have the opportunity to invest back in their hometowns and, frankly, rebuilding Waterloo to be the vibrant town that my parents grew up in is proving to be an “all hands on deck” job. So, despite my qualms with her body of work, everyone should have the right to self organize a unique education system so I’m very on board with the entrepreneurial spirit of this new nonprofit.
As it’s currently operating, the Freedom School is a Black history focused after school program, but it has the potential to be so much more than that. The school is, according to reports, not wanting for more resources at the present, but maintaining a staff is expensive and demand will only increase as the school grows in popularity.
The pandemic sparked a reexamination of school curriculum partly because parents were able to listen over their children’s shoulders during remote lessons. As a result, in the past two years over 40 bills have been introduced in different states to restrict what race based curriculum schools can teach in class or cover in training. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed House File 802 which goes into effect this summer and will ban public institutions from teaching a laundry list of race based trainings and similar discriminatory lesson plans.
This legislative session, the Iowa Senate voted to pass Senate Bill 2369 which would create a state funded scholarship fund that parents could use to enroll in private schools. Although it’s presently unclear if this bill will pass the House and become law, the fact that it passed the Senate with a decent majority and is a priority for the governor signals that it will be a priority for future legislative sessions.
If the Freedom School were able to function as a full time private school, then this would be the ultimate way for parents to self select out of public schools to teach an otherwise banned curriculum. Perhaps this could even be the case study that sways those politically left of center to be in favor of the governor’s Student First Scholarship plan.
Student scholarships are good because parents have the right to determine the best education path for their child. I want my future children to grow up in a pod school learning Latin, the importance of catechistic teachings, classical literature and drink unpasteurized raw milk with their school lunch. My preferred style of education is radically different from the standard, just like the Freedom School.
I hope that the growth of The Freedom School in Waterloo shows more people that parent involvement in education is important and parents should actively look to form education alternatives when their needs aren’t being met by existing public, or private, schools. We can all be education innovators.
Patricia Patnode is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com