Sunday, October 12, 2008

Educators & Politics: An Unlikely But Necessary Match

The election for the highest office in our land is fast approaching. Given that this has been the longest presidential campaign in history, it hardly seems possible that it will all be over in a little less than one month.

The National Education Association and its state affiliates have recommended the candidate that we believe has offered the best platform on public education, and our members have been working hard to participate in the process in order to bring about the outcome that we believe is in the best interest of the students we teach and the personnel who work in our public schools.

The fact that the NEA and its state affiliates are working so hard for their chosen candidate doesn’t sit too well with some people, but that is okay. We live in a country that is based on the principles of democratic discourse and debate. What isn’t okay is when disagreement leads to name calling and the debasement of those who disagree. There are those who would apparently like to bully educators into silence during these final weeks of the election. Fortunately, that isn’t going to happen; but it is a sad day, indeed, when certain individuals will rely on any tactic necessary—including personal attack—on those who have the temerity to disagree with them.

I urge my fellow educators to participate in this election to the fullest extent that they can. Many teachers tend to shy away from political action because it is sometimes unpleasant. I used to be one of those individuals. I didn’t believe that teachers and educational support professionals should “dirty their hands” with politics. We should somehow be above all that.

What I finally came to understand is that educators are impacted by political decisions that are made on the local, state, and federal level every single day. From the moment we arrive at school until we leave, every aspect of our work day is driven by a political decision of some sort—from the curriculum, to the number of children we can have in our classes, to the number of minutes we can have for planning time—or not, depending on whether we even get a planning time.

If we don’t start participating in a more meaningful way in the political process, educational policy decisions will continue to be made without our input. That has been happening for far too long, and it is time for us to wake up to our true power and start exercising it in a meaningful way through the political process that is available to us. Will that make everyone happy? No. Is it the right thing to do? You bet. Educators and politics may be an unlikely match, but if we are to take back control of our own profession, it is one that is absolutely necessary.