What 2012 Has Taught Me #4 – The Politics of Education

Photo Credit: Flickr user "DonkeyHotey" - Used under creative commons

Photo Credit: Flickr user “DonkeyHotey” – Used under creative commons

 

I’ll start here: 2012 has taught me that there is no political flagship that is holding a monopoly on the truth.

 

“Liberals” and “Conservatives” have been fighting for as long as I can remember in Michigan over the politics of education. “Liberals” and their unions promote themselves as the defenders of education. “Conservatives” (like our current Governer Rick Snyder) promote themselves as the reformers of education. Then come in all the other pieces: charter schools, state-mandate curricula, retirement and benefits, data, graduation rates, standardized testing… blah, blah, blah. “Conservatives” say one thing. “Liberals” say another thing.

It used to matter a lot to me, like… a lot. In general, I am a “conservative” thinker. I believe in fiscal responsibility, but I know a lot of “liberals” who believe in that, too. I believe in the dignity of all human beings, which is the basis for my anti-abortion beliefs and my skepticism over the death penalty, but I know “liberals” who believe in that, too. I believe we should seriously reduce our military presence around the world. I know a lot of “liberals” who believe that, too.

My masters class this semester was taught by an educator who introduced himself as “the most radical professor in the department.” And in his extreme “liberalism” he showed us video after video of lecturers and speakers who supported his “radical” ideas of supporting lower classes, promoting racial equality, and progressively educating in ways that support all students and give opportunities for social advancement.

Speaker after speaker. Speech after speech. Lecture after lecture. Talking about the dignity of all human beings. The talent that exists in underrepresented populations. The methods and means for effectively educating them. The results that demonstrate the effectiveness. Presented as though those beliefs were “liberal.”

And here I sat: A “conservative” mostly agreeing with all of it. The only part that I disagreed with was the part about those being “liberal” ideas. They didn’t sound like it to me. I knew “liberals”. I also knew “conservatives”. The respect for human dignity at all levels of human life from the super talented and successful to the severely disabled, from the oldest people to the very youngest people (so young they still needed to live inside the womb for a while longer) seemed to be an idea that existed among both “conservatives” and “liberals” and also was willing to be sacrificed by the most politically powerful “liberals” and “conservatives.”

So, 2012 has taught me that the “liberal” and “conservative” labels are as harmful as they are misunderstood. Calling someone a “conservative” means a lot to people who fancy themselves “liberals” because they need an enemy. The same is true for “conservatives” who label someone a “liberal.” The labels work well when the desire is to place blame.

I don’t know what I am anymore because I don’t know what those labels mean anymore. The more time that we spend working to define those words, the more time we waste that could be better spent solving problems. Good education isn’t “conservative” or “liberal.” Once again, there is no political flagship that is holding a monopoly on the truth. 2012 has taught me that there isn’t much value in pretending that it does.

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