“Putting Children at the Center:” Reflections from the 5th Annual Network for Public Education (NPE) Conference

NPE workshop on “Restoring Justice through Trauma-Informed Practice in Early Childhood,” featuring Dr. Denisha Jones, Bianca Tanis, Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, and Susan Ochshorn

I travel to many conferences every year. As a professor, I am expected to conduct research, write about it, and travel around the country sharing my work. I like traveling, so I enjoy this aspect of my job. Five years ago, I went to my first Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Austin, Texas, and it has become a very special event for me. First off, it is not like many of the boring academic conferences I attend where people read their research papers.  Educators, parents, and activists from all over the country (and world) attend NPE. Second, the first NPE is the first time I met my Badass Teacher family! After a year of watching that organization grow exponentially fast on Facebook, we finally meet in Austin at NPE. Finally, it was the second annual NPE conference in Chicago where I was asked to join the Advisory Board of Defending the Early Years. Each year, early childhood education is well represented at the NPE conference and I am proud to be able to discuss many issues related to the education and care of young children.

This NPE conference ended with a keynote from Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP.  Given the history of civil rights organizations supporting high-stakes testing and other school privatization efforts, it was refreshing to hear the president of the NAACP denounce privatization, charters, and high-stakes standardized testing.  One comment that Mr. Johnson repeated as a salient part of his remarks was that we must “put children in the center.” He advocated that the work we do must put the needs of children in the center.  He urged us to put children in the center and march forward with our allies by asking “are we training and preparing our children for a bright, prosperous future?” His comments resonated with me because I believe we must do all we can to protect childhood. And we must work together to put children and their education in the center of the work we do.

Many of the workshops at NPE were about putting children in the center. I was able to speak with other early childhood educators and advocates about how we restore justice in the early years and address trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACES). In the DEY workshop, we addressed how the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) infected early childhood education with the proliferation of online preschools. Other speakers addressed many issues about education, teachers, and public schools which all include a need to put children at the center.  Whether it is teachers in Puerto Rico fighting to save schools for their students, or teachers in Arizona organizing to improve working conditions that impact children’s learning condition, we all came together because we believe that the fight for equity and justice must place children in the center.

The NPE conference might be the one time a year I see many of my education activist friends who advocate for children and their schools across the country. It is great to be reminded that you are not alone in this fight and that your allies are there to support you and help you heal. It is good to laugh, eat, drink, cry, and organize with people who understand why you do what you do. And most of all, it is important to learn from each other and recharge your spirit as you gear up to continue the fight.


At the NPE conference in Indianapolis, Dr Denisha Jones and Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin present a workshop entitled “Defending the Early Years: How are we protecting young children from the global education refrm movement, privatization of public schools, online preschools, and more?”