One thought on “My Mother’s Fight for Education Rights: The Story of Jean Birkenstein Washington

  1. Federico Vidargas

    Jean was my aunt. I did not lnow her during this period because I grew up in Mexico largely unaware of Jean and her family for reasons unclear to me at the time. When as a kid I asked my grandmother Lillian about Jean, she said she had made “poor life choices”. That was it. No explanation.
    I met Jean in 1972 when, after Architecture school at UNAM in Mexico City, I went to graduate school at IIT in Chicago, where she, Robin and Glenn also studied, From the first moment, Jean shocked me, impressed and inspired me with her vitality and enthusiasm for everything: education, civil rights, politics, science. Animals. Everything. She couLd talk for hours. Her physical size did not match her mind.
    We became close. I loved her stories and learned more about my family from Jean than from my mother and grandmother. I loved her art. Met her foster children. Took her to the emergency room when she had an asthma attack. Stuff that happens when you care.
    Later, when she was developing her Jeanius Math-teaching software, she recruited my daughter Amanda (10 or 11 at the time) to help with translation for her Bilingual program, aimed at Spanish-speaking children. She wanted to introduce her to her world. Amanda is now an educator and chef who adores kids and helps shape their early years.
    Jean was one of the smartest and most compassionate people I have ever met. She was a force and I miss her. I miss her today. She would make sense of the crazyness enveloping this country.


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