Monday, January 23, 2017

Politics In The Schools

Yesterday evening, still high off Saturday’s Women’s March, I wrote some fellow teachers inviting them to a meeting of the Seven Valleys Writing Project, an organization of Central New York and the Southern Tier teachers. I wrote how energized I was from the protests and that getting together would energize all of us.  

This morning, one colleagues wrote back that we shouldn’t divide ourselves by bringing up politics. Her point was good, reminding me that not everyone on the planet thinks as I do. A significant number voted for those currently in power. I responded that she was right and we could keep politics to a minimum. 

The meeting today wasn’t overly political though politics did come up. There’s no way to avoid it. Politics is coming for our profession. It always has and always will. I understand that our organization isn’t a political action committee, but it’s politically motivated and affected. One of our members is running for the Board of Regents. Another is involved in environmental policy. Several of us attended marches. All of us voted. 

One member who couldn’t attend sent an essay about teaching with the door open. This quote caught my attention: 

“This highlights a central tension around teacher agency and professionalism within a culture that demands teachers to be not political, not activists…” 

Our culture demands that teachers be not political, objective. That’s hooey. In school today we talked about the press secretary stating obvious falsehoods at his first ever briefing and then not taking questions. I asked students what he should do to improve. They were perceptive. The lesson demanded I bring in politics and state clearly that he had said things without basis in facts and reality. 

My students know I voted for Hillary Clinton. They know I have very little confidence in this president. I speak highly of the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. I have students memorize the Gettysburg Address because it’s beautiful and teach Lincoln’s Second Inaugural as spectacular prose. I’ve refrained from mentioning the 2017 Inaugural Address because I can’t say enough positive about it. Omitting it from my curriculum seems the wisest choice. 

There’s nothing wrong with teachers sharing political opinions. The key is how to share. My every effort is to reason with students and to enter into discussions without the intent to convince. 

One of my best social studies teachers was a registered Reagan Republican. He got me interested in politics though we agreed on almost nothing. Never once did he hide his opinions or claim objectivity. He went out of his way to accommodate opposing opinions. We students were welcome to disagree but not from the gut.” We were required to argue the merits. 

There is no such thing as purely objective teaching. Even if there was, school systems are political instruments. Education is political.  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find excerpts from Orwell to use in next week’s class.