Taking a Knee for Public Education

Call me a son of a bitch, I don’t care. The national anthem is not sacred. The United States is not about one single person, belief system, or song from the war of 1812. Nothing is sacrosanct and that is why the United States will endure.

What can students learn about the NFL controversy and President Trump’s remarks? The biggest lesson to gain from this is that we can disagree and survive. To quote the 18th Century French Enlightenment thinker Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire, who raged against the Catholic Church, promoting crushing that infamous thing, would definitely be on my side of this argument.

First a caveat: I am not a “sports fan.” I don’t watch football and I don’t care about the sport. I have often thought that some Americans take it too seriously, and I would much rather play any sport than watch it. This post is not about football.

Second caveat: I love the U.S.A. I am a patriot. I proudly stand for the pledge of allegiance every school day. I teach social studies with respect for American law and institutions. I am neither a communist nor a member of ANTIFA. I am not radical. I am a white, middle-aged (sorry, my friend, Jen, said I can’t describe myself like that). I am a white, mature, middle-class woman living on 40 acres in Upstate New York. I am related to many war veterans and I greatly appreciate their sacrifice. This post is about patriotism and how dissenting is a form of patriotism.

So, why do I connect the NFL with public education? Where is patriotism instilled? In public schools, every day when we stand, put our little hands on our hearts and pledge our allegiance to the U.S. of A. Because every American is entitled to NOT stand when the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance is recited. Dissent is liberty. Withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy — it is a form of action.

By not standing for the anthem, or for the pledge, individuals are sending a message. Our country is bent — not broken, but bent — and is in need of repair. The knee represents the need for dialogue and collective introspection. Blind loyalty is not patriotism, it is a form of vapid nationalism.

Public education is my “knee” issue. If President Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy “Amway” Devos, is able to dismantle public education further, I will take a knee. Every time that I have stood for the anthem, and the pledge, since the 2016 election, I have reflected on the state of my country. Since the election, I have grown more and more aware of the savage inequalities that permeate our schools, our communities — all threats to the American dream.

Jose Vilson, in his recent post entitled “A Note On Teaching as Activism,” writes about this issue with more clarity. He points out:

“It’s little wonder that less than 20% of the entire teaching force is of color. It’s even less curious that the schools with higher percentages of educators of color are more subject to scripted lessons, standardized testing, crooked teacher ratings, and oppressive staffing decisions — including suspension and expulsion for frivolous reasons.”

 

So, stand if you believe our country is a great place and deserves praise. Kneel if you don’t. Maybe you have a “knee” issue, maybe you don’t. Transparency, discussion, and dissent are “the way home through Baghdad.” Change happens with resistance, not stasis. We will never embody the message of Francis Scott Key, or the words in the Pledge of Allegiance if we don’t have a country that values every resident and gives everyone a voice.

#whyweM4PE

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Finish this: “Public Education is…”



“Public Education is DEMOCRACY!”

That is how I finished the prompt on the March for Public Education’s Facebook Group query. (Please join this group of over 13,000 people by clicking the underlined link.)

Yes, all caps are needed. Yes, it warrants an exclamation point. Yes, public education is not just a part of the American democratic system, it the engine of democracy. To further explain, the following are five reasons public education is democracy:

1.Public education is democracy because schools are like the statue of liberty.

Public schools take all kinds of students — black, white, Christian, Muslim, Jew, poor, rich, special needs, or gifted. Public schools face poverty, mental illness, addiction, neglect, and hunger with warm classrooms led by smiling adults. Like Emma Lazarus’ poem, schools take the tired, the poor, and the wretched refuse, because public schools are open to every resident of the United States of America. Public schools are safe havens for our most vulnerable citizens.


2.Public education is democracy because students learn a standardized education, which promotes equal access to opportunities.

Students in central New York, where I have lived my entire life, are offered a standard curriculum, taught by teachers who hold master’s degrees, earn tenure, and who are allowed to collectively bargain and unionize. The New York State public education system, although not perfect, truly attempts to create a foundation for its residents. I attended four different public school districts, and although the frequent moving was often disruptive socially, the standard curriculum and high quality of learning offered by every one of the school districts enabled me to mature positively despite my often disruptive childhood.

Standardized learning and highly qualified teachers help to even out privilege and counteract disparity. Rigorous content, dynamic pedagogy, and equitable funding are all components of effective public schools.


3. Public education is democracy because all teachers are civics teachers.

Although many people complain about students’ lack of knowledge about civics and history, as institutions, public schools go a long way to civilize the huddled masses. Schools teach rules, expectations, deadlines and collaboration.

Students in public education recite the pledge of allegiance every day, participate in moments of silence when tragedy arises, and collectively learn about American government and values.


4.Public education is democracy because parents invest in their communities and have a voice in the budget every spring.

On May 16, 2017, hundreds of school district across the state of New York will offer spaghetti dinners while holding their breaths in the hope that the community will continue to support their district’s financial needs for another year.

When budgets are rejected it is often due to financial constraints, disagreements over spending, or political issues. However, in my twenty-two years of teaching, I have never taught in a school where the budget was not passed. Every budget is tense, but ultimately in Central New York, anyway, taxpayers see the value in an educated citizenry.


5. Public education is democracy because schools, like American democracy, are messy.

I have a respected colleague that often repeats the line: democracy is messy. No truer words have been spoken. Democracy is horribly untidy — riddled with disagreements, power struggles, and self-centered greed. Schools are microcosms of society, and schools represent both the best and the worst of American values and deficiencies.

Out of the mess, however, comes creativity, athletics, clubs, activities, growth, individuality, and success for millions of students. I don’t always like what happens in America, or in public schools, but I would not want to live or teach in any other type of system.


How would you finish: Public Education is…? Comment below, and consider writing a piece for this publication.

Please follow the publication, click the heart 💚 icon, bookmark the website by clicking here, follow on Twitter and join the Facebook group.

#educationmarch — join the march on July 22, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Why the title: Teaching in Trump’s America?

Place, time, and history.

After recently asking a colleague to write about a wonderful teaching technique he employs, he told me that Teaching in Trump’s America was too political for him to be involved with during this time in his career.

I respect this person’s views. I can understand why many teachers are historically reluctant to raise their voices. I can even appreciate colleagues who support President Trump. Although I comprehend many reasons why educators might shy away from supporting Teaching in Trump’s America, I am troubled if the only excuse is politics, because teaching is political.

The name of the publication is provocative. Maybe some day, it can simply be called Teaching in America. For now, however, the inclusion of Trump’s name is significant because it clarifies place, time, and historical details.

Place: America

The United States has been viewed as a grand experiment by many. Experiments have variables and constants. Experiments can fail. Public schools are the great equalizer — children from diverse backgrounds can learn collectively, with many overcoming socio-economic differences. Education, especially public education, is the embodiment of democracy. American schools are microcosms of society. By analyzing American education, we learn more about our country as a whole.

Time: Post 9/11 World

Since the horrible events of September 11, 2001, many Americans have felt vulnerable. Unlike the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there was no clear enemy. The kamikaze hijackers flew no country’s flag — instead, America’s enemies were radicalized and trained in many countries, including in the United States. Unease and anxiety, coupled with true economic stagnation, have increased the creation of “other.” This creation of “other” has made scapegoating possible. Unfortunately, teachers have been victims as well. Whether it be the teacher benefit of summer vacations, systemic school failure, or “liberal” intellectualism, teachers have often been cast as prosperous in a worldview of the haves versus have-nots.

Historical Details: From A Nation At Risk to Race to the Top

In 1983, the Reagan administration published A Nation At Risk. In 2002, the Bush Administration supported the No Child Left Behind Act. In 2010, the Obama Administration promoted the Race to the Top and later (2015) The Every Child Succeeds Act (reauthorizing the 50-year old Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which No Child Left Behind also reauthorized). For the last fifty years (most of the post-world war two era), politicians have used funding as a tool to mold American education — in a feeble attempt to make America competitive with other nations. These educational politics have promoted a narrative of school failure.

Therefore, Teaching in Trump’s America is an apt title for a publication that aims to shine a light on the realities of public school teaching. Minus the noise of politicians, publishing companies, and non-teaching “experts,” teacher’s authentic voices can be collectively raised. The story of education can change, one post at a time. Furthermore, true democracy can only survive with loud individuals speaking their truth to power.

https://medium.com/teaching-in-trumps-america