It is interesting how many educators don’t make the connection of what we do to the politics of the day. This week I attended the ESEA conference. The main focus of the conference is how to work within Title schools and assisting students living in poverty. The politicians make the rules and how to spend the money. Right now we are entering a dark age of education due to politics.
The dark ages are most intense in Florida. Books are being censored. Teachers are being censored. Parents are being censored. That is quite bad, and sadly, the rhetoric has started to migrate to other places. In too many other states and districts, mention of social emotional learning and equity are forbidden terms. Families and politicians are wanting to erase critical pieces of our nation’s history out of fear we might actually have to address past and current atrocities.
We can’t even agree if students should be feed well at school. Too many children are being punished for being poor, in the classroom, in the office, and in the cafeteria. There are teachers who embarrass students for being late or not completing homework without checking to see if their family has electricity or transportation. There are principals who jump to conclusions about students without getting the full story of what in happening in that student’s life. There are cafeteria workers who embarrass students by giving them a cheese sandwich while berating them for not paying their lunch bill. There are politicians who believe it is perfectly fine to leave families living in poverty or experiencing homelessness hanging high and dry.
At the conference there were several excellent keynote speakers who talked about poverty and education. Dr. Horacio Sanchez showed us, through words and demonstrations, how poverty affects the brain. The effect doesn’t start when a student starts school, it starts from day one of birth (and in many ways prior to birth if prenatal care is absent). It’s all about the gray matter. The good thing is, the effects can be mitigated with intentional strategies and consistency. Dr. Pedro Noguero discussed how education is the key to a better life, which we all know. His keynote talked about equity in education. When education takes equity, not equality, into account, ensuring schools and students get what they need, students do much better in school. Equity helps disrupt the school to prison pipeline. My main takeaway from his words is that we need to begin to believe the impossible is possible, but we must seek out schools that are making the difference so we can see what seems impossible is possible. We can only do that if we look farther than our own schools, districts, states, and country.
The best quote for me, the one that has stuck in my head, came from one of Dr. Kurt Russell’s, the 2022 Teacher of the Year, from Oberlin, Ohio, students. Dr. Russell has accomplished some great things within his school, mainly by listening to his students. What has stuck with me, and one quote I think we all need to take into action based on where we are as a nation, is, “We must confront the uncomfortable.” In order for things to improve, in schools, in homes, in the nation, we must be willing to talk about uncomfortable topics, such as slavery, gun violence, fascism, voter suppression, and more, if we are going to ever make things better.
As educators, we must always remember that of everyone who wants a say about education, it is only the politicians who have the power to make the necessary changes. The rest of us can place immense pressure on the politicians, which is our superpower, but ultimately, the elected official has the say about budgets, curriculum, services, and policies that affect schools, and ultimately students, each and every day.
This means we—educators, parents, students, general public—must pay attention to what is being said, and most importantly, what is being done legislatively by elected officials. If they aren’t doing right by students, then we need to boot them out of office as quickly as we can, and until then, pressure them through calls, letters, and possibly protests, to do better. We must not let them believe the small vocal minority speaks for the majority. We must make our voices be heard, and be loud and proud in our support of all students by doing something, and being actively involved, in a way in which we are most comfortable.
Don’t ever forget this: Education is political!