Why Teachers Are Political [A Rant]

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose6 Comments

I think it’s time for new political parties, and I mean it. After the debacle that was the release of teacher data reports, we saw a well-rated teacher say it’s crap, and a badly-rated teacher say it’s crap. Yet, the people chosen to represent “us” have yet to outright dismiss the multimillion dollar monster they created and unleashed upon our villages. NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and others implicitly think it’s Frankenstein’s monster: misunderstood and unintended for the public. The rest of us see this as the original Godzilla, crushing buildings and breathing fire into our public edifices at the taxpayer’s expense. (Joel Klein, in fact, wanted the monster to be released upon the villages, even when he knew it wasn’t safe. Mad scientist, indeed.)

Unfortunately, we can’t reopen all the closed schools and undo the damage to the thousands of kids affected.

Because of this, teachers don’t have much of a choice when it comes to their political identity. Our current education system is a function of our government, and our views about education is a piece of our core beliefs. For instance, saying that we want a free, public, equitable education for all children irrespective of background or classification is a political statement. Even our pedagogy and how we approach teaching children our subjects all makes up an educational ideology, and that’s just a sliver of the composite we call our political beliefs.

Some people might mistake this for me saying that our political ideologies fall under the duality of what we consider “Democrat” or “Republican.” To the contrary, I’m saying that, because of the nuance in these edu-political discussions, we ought to re-consider our actual politics. Look no further than the almost unilateral support of the release of the reports from “both” sides of the aisle. All the while, teachers and allies of like minds have banded together against the idea that educators shouldn’t be humiliated.

Novel concept.

This also means that teachers can’t consider themselves apolitical, because their function in schools has a purpose past the esoteric feelings teachers have about the classroom. We have to understand policy and debate, and respond accordingly. We have to read up daily from different sources and become aware of the latest research on everything that happens in our classroom. In no way am I saying we ought to be activists (:: ahem ::). I’m merely arguing that, in order to move the profession along, we have to dig deeper on all these pieces, and can’t rely on our representatives to represent us.

We can do better.

Mr. Vilson, who welcomes being challenged on this …

Comments 6

  1. If the purpose of public education is a thriving democracy (which has been hit or miss historically) with a well-informed citizenry, teachers need to be at the forefront.

    I would also argue this, though: teachers need to fight for social justice beyond simply educational issues. We need to be at the front of fighting for citizenship for immigrants (and the DREAM Act in particular) and equal rights for the LGBT community. We need to speak boldly about income disparity, because ultimately these are all connected to education as well.

  2. Teachers MUST be political activists. Every decision that affects teachers from what paper is ordered to how they are evaluated is made by a politician or someone hired by a politician! We can no longer say,”We don’t want to be involved in politics.” We ARE involved in politics and it is time to make our voices heard loudly and clearly.

  3. Jose, awesome post. I think many teachers get confused by the Ethics-Power continuum and land on the side of Ethics exclusively, as if it were an either/or thing. It is not: it is both/and. Who better than teachers to make the connection between Ethics and Power. And if not us then who??

    I agree strongly with John that we must make common cause with social justice issues. We must fight for others and inspire them to fight for us. Keep writing!

  4. The release of the TDR’s has sent my colleagues and I to the streets so to speak. We want to fight back. Democrat or Republican, publicly shaming teachers is not going to fix our education system. We can not have a dialogue about how to accurately evaluate teachers while the possibility of being falsely rated hangs over our heads.

    We wrote this petition to attempt to put a stop to the ridiculous slander that the Teacher Data Reports are.


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