The life of a civil rights attorney doesn’t neatly lend itself to take-your-child-to-work day, but this October, Managing Attorney John Affeldt had a rare chance to share his work with his 8-year-old son Dylan. With schools closed for a three-day teacher training on the new Common Core standards, Dylan and John traveled to Washington, DC to advocate for federal policies to ensure every child is taught by a well-prepared and effective teacher. For most students, civics education happens through their teacher, a textbook and the occasional Schoolhouse Rock video. The lucky few in well-resourced schools might take a trip to Washington, DC to see the nation’s Capitol. Dylan, however, had a chance to meet the people behind our nation’s government and to see his dad in action. Civics education doesn’t get much better.
Dylan and John crisscrossed the Capitol over the course of three days, fitting in meetings with legislative staff, Department of Education and White House officials and two briefings on Capitol Hill. On Monday, they met with staff from Congressman George Miller’s office to discuss the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (commonly known as No Child Left Behind), and stopped in at the office of their local Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Congresswoman Lee’s district includes Emeryville Unified School District, where John is President of the school board and Dylan attends school. While Lee’s staff was impressed with such a young constituent visiting their office, the highlight for Dylan was playing with the Congresswoman’s extensive international doll collection. Two weeks later at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Emeryville Center of Community Life, a K-12 full service community school, Dylan and Congresswoman Lee talked dolls.
Dylan & John with Rep. Barbara Lee and State Sen. Loni Hancock at Emery Unified community school groundbreaking.
On Tuesday, John and Dylan joined over 100 national, state and local civil rights, disability, rural, youth, higher education, principal and education advocacy organizations under the banner of the Coalition for Teaching Quality at Senate and Hill briefings hosted by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. David Reichert (R-WA). The coalition — on whose steering committee John sits — was formed in 2011 after Congress stayed Public Advocates’ victory in Renee v. Duncan, which struck down federal regulations deeming teachers with as little as five weeks summer training “highly qualified.”
At the briefings, the coalition released a comprehensive roadmap for ensuring a well-prepared and effective educator in every community and pressed the importance of profession-ready and effective teachers and principals as key to advancing educational opportunity. The CTQ also released the first in a series of reports tied to the roadmap, “Profession-Ready Teachers and Principals for Each and Every Child,” which outlines federal policy changes to ensure every new teacher enters the classroom “profession-ready.” Listening to the panelists talk about the preparation every new teacher should have — including completing a teaching residency under the guidance of an accomplished teacher — Dylan’s ears perked up. That sounded just like teacher Samantha, a full-time, year-long teacher resident from Mills College who teaches alongside Mrs. Brunick in his 2nd grade classroom. If only Dylan had been on the panel!
Thumbs Ups from Dylan, Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell & Deputy Undersecretary of Education Jamienne S. Studley — former President & CEO of Public Advocates!
Dylan proved a quick study in DC advocacy. In an afternoon briefing at the Department of Education, chaired by former Public Advocates intern Ary Amerikaner, who now serves as a policy advisor at the US Department of Education, Dylan listened attentively as 15 or so advocates around the table introduced themselves and their organization. Without missing a beat, he chimed in with his own introduction: “Dylan Affeldt, 2nd grade, Anna Yates Elementary School. I like planes, I’m on the Monarch’s baseball team, and … I’m the President of Kids.” The room erupted into laughter — and Ary turned the meeting over to Dylan to “chair.”
The next day at the White House, Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to President Obama for Education, was similarly charmed. If only every meeting of DC education advocates and policy wonks had K-12 students present to lighten the room and ground us in the day-to-day realities of schools!
Dylan Affeldt, “President of Kids,” hard at work in White House meeting with the Special Assistant to the President for Education, Roberto Rodriguez.
For John, the trip brought back vibrant memories of his own time in DC as a 2nd grader in 1969-70. John’s father, Robert Affeldt, had served as a political appointee under the Assistant Secretary for Equal Opportunity at the newly-formed Department of Housing and Urban Development just after the 1968 Fair Housing Act was passed. As Dylan marveled at Amelia Earhart’s Red Vega at the Air & Space Museum and took a selfie with Abraham Lincoln and his dad at the Lincoln Memorial, John recalled weekend outings to these same sights with his family.
In the Mad Men days of the late 1960s, fathers weren’t known for bringing their children to work. But later Robert did bring John along on a DC trip as a college student. John’s father, who had left his position as a labor law professor at the University of Toledo to open a solo practice litigating class action employment discrimination cases, had traveled to DC to meet with legislative leaders and other government officials to assess the viability of a novel legal theory based on an executive order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors. At age 19, John visited with his Congressman in the Rayburn House Office Building and experienced the milieu of national legislative advocacy. Dylan — who also visited Rayburn with his dad on their trip — has an 11-year head start.
One doesn’t have to stretch far to see that Robert Affeldt — a man who publicly resigned in protest after charging the Nixon Administration with “encouraging and perpetuating racial discrimination in housing, employment and education”, who educated an army of newly-minted lawyers and armed them with the tools to challenge employment discrimination, and then who successfully sued corporate giants like McDonald’s as a solo employment discrimination practitioner — planted the seeds of advocacy in his son John. One can’t help but wonder how this first trip to the nation’s Capitol — and the opportunity to meet and speak with the adults who make the decisions that affect his school every day — might have planted a similar seed for young Dylan.