Even the one word, “political,” gets you a little fired up, given today’s climate, right?
Being a multilingual learner means that one has multiple understandings of the world. In Spanish, the word for “politics” also means “policy.” Let that sink in for a moment.
At the end of June, 2017, I had the great honor of attending the Education Commission of the States National Forum on Education Policy along with the other state teachers of 2017. The Forum is a
gathering of “commissioners” (defined by Merriam-Webster as “the representative of the governmental authority in a district, province, or other unit often having both judicial and administrative powers”) of education from across the country. I want to cut right to the chase on my learning from the conference, so if you would like more details about the Forum or the Education Commission of the States (and I hope you do, or will by the end of this blog post), follow this link.
The topics of the Forum ranged from school choice, to equity, career-readiness, and funding. While the commissioners and educational experts were fluent in the language of education and pedagogy, the absence teacher voice was glaringly obvious. Sure, the state teachers of the year were in attendance, and boy, did we ever bring the hard questions, but the overwhelming majority of lawmakers and those they collaborate with are not educators. This was my top takeaway. While many of the lawmakers, analysts, and other expert presenters did seem have students’ best interests at heart, the fact of the matter is, they don’t know our students. They don’t know our students’ families. They don’t know our students’ communities. Being surrounded by those with the power to make decisions and form policies that affect the classroom, made it impossible to deny the truth that we all know too well: our system of top-down control over education will always inhibit the impact teachers and schools have on students and their learning.
When I arrived at the National Forum, I was a little disappointed to see that there were no lawmakers in attendance from my home state of Arkansas. Over the next two days, however, I began to realize something important: our Commissioner and Department of Education already have a strong collaboration with teachers and schools, which should always be the driving force behind reform in education. The Arkansas Department of Education is staffed with highly-qualified educators who have left the classroom to ensure that the lives and voices of their students are central to any new rule or law handed down to the teachers and schools of our state. My gratitude for my state’s devotion to individual students was amplified through this learning experience.
We, teachers especially, don’t want to think of education as political. We want to think of it as something so much bigger than politics. Though it definitely is that, I urge educators to consider the fact that politics = policy, and vice versa. If you want to impact education policy, instead of always being the recipient of its often brutal forces, then you have to get political. Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi said to us, “I think every governor should appoint a teacher of the year as his education advisor.” I say that would be a good start, but we can do even better. It’s time to get engaged, it’s time to raise our voices. Our kids need us, the true experts, to take their learning back into our hands, their hands, and the communities’ hands. Let’s get involved with politics, because in our country, education and politics go hand-in-hand.