Politics in the public school

Disclaimer: This is not a post about politics – well, not just politics. Nor is this a post about teaching – well, not just teaching. This is the intersection of politics and teaching. So, don’t let the focus on politics nor the focus on my educational setting stop you from making the journey I’ve had to recently.

I am not now, nor will ever become, a Trump supporter. I’m not saying that to sway you, rather to get that out in the open, provide some context. That said, I still don’t (or at least didn’t) understand how or why anyone would vote for Trump. We all understand Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, but still how anyone who was not pulling in 7 figures could support the Trump agenda was beyond me. I know people who voted for Trump and I thought they were good people. So why would they turn their back on the rest of society and vote for him?

And then, it hit me – amidst a political Facebook debate. As my liberal posse was sparring with our conservative counterparts, one of the Trump supporters responded that he was going to be much better off under President Trump. Well, actually he said “I.” Not we. Not his community. Not his state. Not the United States. “I.”

There it was. A vote of self. I had seen evidence of this before, but ignored it. The Conservative vote was just that – a vote to conserve the well-being of the Conservative. And woe to the individual who tries to justify to the conservative that what’s good for me may not good for everyone else, because in a Conservative’s eyes, we are all equal. Ok, for a few Conservatives, some people – races, genders, sexual orientations – are less than equal, but to them, the “less” do not matter. In the Conservative’s eyes, a vote for Trump was a vote for America the Equal, America the Majority, America the Me.

Politics done. Now the school part.

If you walk into any public school, particularly in a liberal area, you’ll find that most of the teachers are Liberal. Recently I took to Facebook to find out why teachers are Liberal. The reasons varied but included to being naturally helpful people, caring about free public education, seeing a true microcosm of society, fighting for the American Worker, being Union Proud, seeing the first hand effects of inequity, and knowing that we can make a difference in the plight against inequity.

But if it were the case that all teachers were Liberal, than it would stand that all decisions made by a group of teachers in a school are easily made.

Many of you out there are laughing hysterically.

You know the realities of public education, especially when decisions need to be made by teachers. For those that don’t when the teaching body is asked to make a decision, it’s never easy.

To help those that may be unclear of the inner workings of distributive leadership in a public school, allow me to share some experiences on the School Leadership Team. We once spent 30 minutes talking about what should be done about the drawing of a certain part of the male anatomy that a teacher found on the floor. We spent an hour and a half arguing about what the finals schedule should be and that was just the first day of deliberations. One year we had to vote on the same thing three times because people kept changing their minds.

So how can a group of people so seemingly similar, at least politically, be so different when it comes to our views on education? There always seems to be two sides, I perpetually find myself on one side advocating for what’s best for the students, particularly those underrepresented, and that doesn’t always align with the “other” teachers. The “others”, the ones who say things like “I don’t see what’s wrong with being colorblind as a teacher”. The ones who, when asked to help decide the schedule for their department, start by saying what classes they will teach. The ones who are so quick to blame the students for their academic and/or behavioral failures without a moment of reflection on their own actions. The ones who when I mentioned in a meeting that maybe each of us can find one student we have labeled with low expectations respond all teachers have high expectations of all students because we treat them all equally.

And again, it hit me. I was once again dealing with Conservatives. Liberal Conservatives. They are liberal because the job of teaching practically dictates you be liberal, but they are conservative because they have that lens of “what’s best for me is best” mentality. The two can coexist because if you think about the idea of being a union advocate, much of what the union represents for these Liberal Conservatives is ‘what is the union doing for me’. While the Teacher Union is a Liberal icon, I personally go back and forth on my view of the Teacher Union – I understand the necessity, but the Teacher Union, like our government, has catered too much to the masses, the me, and not what is best for students and the profession. Being a teacher leader and having to work with these LC (Liberal Conservatives) puts me in an awkward position. I can chose to ignore the Conservative Trump supporter because I do not surround myself with Trump supporters. However, the LCs are not Trump supporters, but they are not Liberal Liberal either – not in the sense that their liberal values align with mine.

So my reader, as you are in one of three camps, I challenge you to the following:

For those not in education: Think about this distinction between your typical Liberal and Conservative, and how this understanding can play into the conversations you have with those on the other side. Also, talk to your teacher friends. See if they notice the two types of teachers. And challenge them.

For the LCs: First, congratulations. If you have identified yourself as an LC, then you have reflected enough to know that you have approached teaching from a “me first” stance. If you want to begin to move beyond that, one tip is to try to see the human in your coworkers and students. Strive for empathy. When you interact with people, think about the Golden Rule. And once you start seeing the people around you for who they are, you begin to care. Care leads to passion. Passion leads to action.

For the Liberals like me: Help me – help each other. We need to answer the “how” questions. How do we get the LCs to see that they are in it for themselves? How do we get the LCs to begin to see each student and begin to strive for equity? How do we compromise with, concede to, or conquer the LCs? I am going to try. Moreover, I am willing to share my efforts. I hope you are too.