Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Well... This is... Awkward...

Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston was asked to speak at the Harvard Graduate School of Education's convocation this year.

Nearly 150 students and alumni have now signed a statement of protest asking the HGSE to rescind the invite.

You can read the statement here.

Digging into this protest provides a glimpse of just how messy the debate on education is.

Here's how the statement of protest begins its objection to Sen. Johnston.
As a state senator in Colorado, Sen. Johnston has pushed through education reforms that we believe work against educational justice for Coloradoan students, teachers, school leaders, and communities.  Sen. Johnston often claims to have been inspired by Dr. King and other civil rights leaders.  However, we believe his vision and policies have been informed far more by conservative economists like Eric Hanushek, who promote policies where teachers are churned in and out of the profession based primarily on test score production.   
I like this debate because it demonstrates opposing sides that want the same outcome but believe in strikingly different paths.

I seek out examples of this kind of debate for classroom discussions because they are the kinds of debates my students don't think of. My students are very good at naming debates where the opposing sides want different outcomes: Abortion, nuclear power, two-state solution, cap and trade, and the list goes on.

Those are all interesting debates, but this education debate asks students to think beyond zero-sum games. Both sides want a more effective education system for the US. So, then what's the debate about?

And we're off! It's about testing, students, teachers, poverty, corporate interests, the size of government, regulation, the role of parents... and now we are so much closer to grasping the scope of conflict in public discourse.

So, I like the debate.

The protest? I'm a little less certain about that.

Sen. Johnston is HGSE alumni. He has a successful career. He has gained a position of influence and made decisions on policy.

There are going to be plenty of people who disagree with the decisions the Senator made. I am actually one of those people.

But it seems a shame to turn away successful alumni because their politics don't align with your own.

Taken to its logical extreme, this kind of protest would lead to convocations inviting only apolitical speakers. And in a field like education, I'm not sure what an apolitical speaker even looks like.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sometimes the "big important thing" isn't about me

A friend of mine asked the right question about #BringBackOurGirls.

Is this hashtag being abused?

I want the answer to be a clear and resounding "no."

Nigerian girls are being kidnapped, raped, tortured, and sold into slavery. These girls are targeted because they are seeking an education. Anything that creates more awareness of such a despicable set of events is a good thing. So, if the First Lady or a movie star tweets the hashtag, it's all for the win, right?

This is an easy issue. Kidnapping, rapist, slavers are on the wrong side of this and we all hate those guys.

We do.

Let's just be clear. It's not just Michelle Obama who is appalled by the actions of Boko Haram.
While I don't think very highly of Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, I know that they would stop these kidnappings if they could.

It's a cut and dry issue.

But then, why is my friend's question such a good one? Why must we be concerned with whether or not this hashtag is being abused?

Allow me a brief digression:
As a heterosexual white American male, I often have to stop and remind myself of this:

Sometimes the "big important thing" isn't about me.

If you are not a heterosexual white American male, you probably already know that, because there is often something nearby to remind you that the world does not revolve around you: news anchors, magazines, movies, drug store cashiers, police officers, teachers, DMV paperwork...

But heterosexual white American males don't have those reminders. Almost all of the things we consume were developed (or delivered) with a prototypical consumer in mind, and that prototypical consumer looks a lot like me.

And that is why I often have to stop and remind myself, "Sometimes the 'big important thing' isn't about me."

This past week, I have been presented with several opportunities to jump into debates about the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Some people are criticizing the hashtag or the people using it.
Some people are criticizing other people for criticizing the hashtag.
Some people are arguing about who started the hashtag.

It is tempting to join these debates. These are lively arguments about how issues are resolved in the new media landscape, and those kinds of arguments are my favorite ones to jump into, but I have to remember: Sometimes the "big important thing" isn't about me.

Nigerian girls are being kidnapped, raped, tortured, and sold into slavery. The girls are targeted because they are seeking an education.

That is the big important thing, and it isn't about me. It is about those girls in Nigeria.

Don't get me wrong; I should care about what is happening to the girls in Nigeria.
I should try to help in any way I can.

It does not matter how I feel about it.
It does not matter how I feel about my political opponents' views on this issue.
It does not matter how I feel about the use of hashtags or Twitter.

That's a difficult kind of exigence to communicate.
Nigeria is far away and unfamiliar to many. So it is easy to get upset about a clear injustice and then shift those feelings towards something closer and more familiar.

It is easy to be upset about something horrible and then turn those feelings on Rush or Michelle.

And so, yes, the hashtag is being abused. People are using this issue to make their opponents look bad. People are insisting that the "big important thing" is all about them and their pet issues.

That's a shame, because brave girls are suffering.