• IDRA Newsletter • September 2023 •

Dr. José Angel Cárdenas was working in educational research in the late 1960s, prior to becoming the superintendent of the Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio and prior to founding IDRA.

He said: “In one powerful moment, it all came together for me. Scientists had experimented with amoebas in a laboratory, and by using their reactions to color and light, they had trained these amoebas to recognize letters of the alphabet.

“And I thought, ‘What if the amoebas had been sent to public schools instead? Then I would be hearing what I always heard about non-readers in our schools: ‘They don’t speak our language!’ ‘They’re amoeba! How can you expect them to learn?’ ‘They come from the wrong side of the pond.’

“What was different and special for those particular amoebas wasn’t their readiness to learn compared with other amoebas, but the context: the laboratory and all the equipment, the skills of the technicians, the elegant process the scientists had designed specifically for amoebas.

“And I was sure that all children could learn if their schools had effective curricula and material and were properly equipped, and their teachers were well-trained and exercised every effort to teach them.”

From that moment, Dr. Cárdenas pledged to defend all children and their right to an excellent and equitable education. Children who are immigrant or migrant, students of color, emergent bilingual students and student’s families with low incomes often have no voice.

The story of IDRA’s founding is relayed in the book, Texas School Finance Reform: An IDRA Perspective. In that book, the late Dr. Cárdenas stated: “If students are faltering, failing or leaving school, then their schools – not the students – need to change in fundamental ways.”

IDRA’s next President & CEO, Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, carried forward IDRA’s mission to ensure educational opportunity for every child. “Our dream and our work at IDRA is for a future in which the color of a child’s skin, the language a child speaks and the side of town that a child comes from are no longer considered barriers to a great education and a good life.” For more than two decades, Dr. Robledo Montecel led IDRA as a high-powered, independent organization with constancy of purpose, commitment, principles and courage.

As IDRA’s third President & CEO, Celina Moreno, J.D., is building on IDRA’s powerful legacy to strengthen and transform public education by providing dynamic educator training and actionable research; leading bold policy and legal advocacy; directing powerful student and parent leadership programs; and building people power to create schools that nourish all students.

IDRA remains dedicated to educational justice, innovation and equal opportunity for children. The issues IDRA has framed and the solutions that have been created, by IDRA and our partners, are all firmly grounded in that vision.

All Pianos Have Keys & Other Stories – Series Re-release

This story is excerpted from “The Analogy of the Amoeba” in IDRA founder Dr. José A. Cárdenas’ popular memoir, All Pianos Have Keys and Other Stories.

All Pianos Have Keys rerelease cover

All Pianos Have Keys & Other Stories – Serial Re-release

As we celebrate IDRA’s 50th anniversary this year, we are re-releasing chapters from the book, which is now out of print. Watch our social media accounts and the webpage below for each new release.

Stories released to date:

  • All Pianos Have Keys
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • The Epidemic that Never Was
  • Jesus Christ Was Not Bilingual
  • The Shape of the World
  • One Minute of Silence
  • Bilingual Onions
  • My Side of the Story
  • A Measure of Progress
  • The Dining Room Table
  • My School: Budget Monitoring At Its Best
  • The Road to Indio
  • King Antonio’s Exile
  • Fiesta San Antonio And Human Rights
  • The Fifty Most Memorable Quotes in School Finance

[©2023, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2023 edition of the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]