Tag Archives: Politics

Speaking Out: Photos from a Planned Parenthood Rally

This country is in the midst of a series of ideological battles, mostly recently regarding healthcare. There are lies, secrets, rumors, and speculations about what’s next. There’s fear and uncertainty, anger and deep mistrust. Decisions are being made behind closed doors; this practice fundamentally threatens the rights of the American people and the democracy they live in.

To add our voices to the cry that high-quality affordable healthcare for all is a human right, my friend and I attended the Pink Out in Columbus Circle here in New York City last Wednesday.

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Rallies were held in cities across the country on the night before the Senate Republicans released their health care proposal.

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I can’t speak for other cities, but the rally here was not as well attended as we had expected, which made me especially glad that we were there.

I wonder if we’ve become complacent in our blue New York bubble. I wonder if people are tired of fighting, tired of calling, writing, handing out fliers. Recently, I read On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder and he warned against complacency. Don’t think it can’t happen here . . . because it’s too late to stop it once it’s happened.

At the end of the day, to sleep at night, I need to know that I’ve done what I can to raise my voice to express my beliefs. I need to know that if everything I cherish is taken away, I didn’t let it go quietly. And that’s why I went to this rally.

As with the Women’s March back in January, I was glad to see so many people of different genders, races, ages, and other demographics represented. In times of turmoil, it’s comforting to find allies. That’s what we did on Wednesday night and what we will continue to do.

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Moral Lines in the Classroom

The end of the day. A room of teachers. Quiet laughter about the upcoming blizzard. Coffee and snacks. A normal start to a faculty meeting. The meeting itself, however, was far from normal. Topic: Talking with students in a tumultuous political climate.

The discussion was interesting but inconclusive. We shared some of our experiences in the past months and discussed ways to approach difficult questions in the classroom. From the nodding around the room, I think everyone agreed about the importance of dialogue and raising multiple perspectives to allow students to come to their own conclusions.

However, the question very quickly came up about whether we, as a school, should take a stand on specific issues and refuse to condone perspectives or discussions that cross certain moral lines. I believe that we are morally obligated to clearly define what it right and what is wrong, and also that we are doing our students a disservice by legitimizing illegitimate claims.

This does not mean that I am opposed to having discussions about controversial topics. For purposes of example, I will discuss the recent travel ban because it has generated much political discourse and countless questions from students.

I believe the travel ban should be up for discussion in the classroom. To address the questions students are asking, we should look at all the arguments Trump is using to uphold the ban and investigate their inaccuracies. We should discuss the fears that led to the travel ban in the first place, and examine times in history in which immigrants and refugees were barred from the US because of xenophobia, economic and employment concerns, religious discrimination, or racism. We should then explore the implications of past policies, look at statistical evidence and data to allay fears and debunk rumors, examine the Constitution to understand checks and balances, and discuss the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights that US signed in 1948. Finally, we should consider how we would each want to be treated if roles were reversed, and whether we have different internal metrics for how we approach different groups of people. If so, we need to then examine why that is.

An investigation like this would serve to help students draw conclusions about the travel ban that are based in fact, evidence, a deep understanding of historical context, and respect for all of humanity. They would understand why the ideas behind this travel ban are factually inaccurate and therefore ethically wrong. We need to teach about the travel ban so that students can understand why it is wrong from a moral perspective, and be able to defend that position when faced with opposition from those who have given into fear.

My school walks a delicate line between being a faith-based institution and a school, and it does take a stand on certain controversial issues. Not all of our stakeholders agree with the school’s positions, but it provides teachers with legs to stand on and a mission to stand by when we evaluate differing perspectives. It gives us the freedom to say, “I understand what you are saying, but this is why you’re wrong.”

Currently, I don’t have the academic freedom to condemn the travel ban on moral grounds. I don’t even really have the freedom to engage in the discussion with my students because I don’t know whether I’d have steadfast administrative support if phone calls start coming in. So when questions come up, a daily occurrence in eighth grade, I find myself pretending to be nonpartisan, dancing around issues that I feel very strongly need to be addressed. I do my best to explain each side’s arguments to my students as succinctly as I can and then try to redirect us to whatever we’re actually supposed to be studying (and that’s a different issue entirely). I don’t want to say something that is later taken out of context and politicized when it was not meant to be. I don’t want to ruffle the feathers of those who are already poised for a fight.

What a world we’re living in if I’m afraid that standing in solidarity with refugees and immigrants could cost me my job.

Unfortunately, this tendency to politicize is exactly why I am trapped in a personal moral dilemma. I believe that the purpose of education is to build a better, more peaceful world and that doing so involves cultivating attitudes of empathy, caring, kindness, and compassionemphasizing dialoguerethinking traditional masculinity and femininity; and engaging with real world problems to figure out how to solve them. Avoiding controversial discussion, thus allowing a moral wrong to be construed as a legitimate opinion, is incongruent with these beliefs.

If a student left my classroom, went out into the world, and enacted a travel ban like Trump’s, I will have failed at educating that student. I will have failed as an educator. My job is to provide students with the tools to explore and answer their own questions. Part of that means guiding students towards what is right. I would be vehemently attacked if I supported a student’s project on, for example, ways to get young people involved in white supremacy groups. And I would be likewise attacked for diverting a student’s interest away from a project about fundraising for groups working to end poverty.

Clearly, there is a right and there is a wrong. Clearly, we have already drawn moral lines. It should be no different with issues labeled political. In the end, we’re dealing with people who need help. It is no more challenging than that.

As an educator, it is my responsibility to guide students to do their own research to draw ultimately conclusions based on valid information. So I am not opposed to the discussion. I am simply opposed to allowing a perspective that is flawed, both in evidence and in morals, to have a defensible place at the table.

A Call to Action

This has been quite the week. I’ve listened to, read, watched, and followed as much of the news as I can possibly stomach and talked about it to anyone who will listen, which is the vast majority of my liberal bubble. The voices outside my bubble, however, are getting louder. I’m glad every day that I live here in New York City where our local government promises to maintain the systems currently in place to keep this city safe, welcoming, healthy, and sustainable. And then I immediately begin to wonder about those who feel the way I do but are not supported the way I am. My heart goes out to all of you. We are here for you.

The negativity and discomfort in the air is noticeable even in my middle school classroom, which is the impetus for this post. An experience I had with my sixth graders this week has me thinking about the world my students are growing up in, how different I wish it was, and how we need to reform education if we ever want to make our world better for everyone.

In My Classroom
We’re in the midst of a unit on Ancient Greece in sixth grade social studies and we spent a couple days discussing art and architecture and what it tells us about Greek values. The Met has a wonderful Greek wing in its permanent collection and we went there on a field trip earlier this week.

Prior to the trip, I went over rules and behavior expectations with my students and the following conversation took place nearly verbatim in all three of my sixth grade classes:

Me: Boys, you need to wear kippot to The Met just like you do at school.
Boys: WHAT?
Me: This is a school trip so we behave and dress like we do in school.
Boys: But people hate Jews! What if we’re shot? What if people follow us? What if we feel unsafe? What if there’s a bomb?
Me: You will be fine. People wear kippot in public every day and they’re fine.
Boys: But what if we’re not?
Me: Myself, the other chaperones, and the museum guards will take care of you. That’s our job.

I had this conversation three times. This week. In the suburbs of New York City. In 2017.

On the Streets
Obviously, my students are scared. Though we didn’t discuss it in class, I wonder about the instances of antisemitism that they’ve encountered in their lives. I wish I could tell them that such experiences are uncommon, but they’re not. I wish I could tell them that things will get better, but I’m beginning to question that, too. New York City is the most Jewish city in the country and the US has the second-highest population of Jews in the world. (Israel is first, though by under a million people.) That my students, growing up in and outside of this most Jewish city, are concerned about antisemitism is heartbreaking.

Again, I am left wondering about the many people who don’t live in our bubble here. I grew up in a town that was not very Jewish next to a town that was very Jewish, so I got used to explaining myself and what Judaism meant but it wasn’t a foreign concept to anyone I encountered. (Until college, but that’s a different story.) And yet, the synagogue I grew up in was vandalized more than once in my memory.

I can’t blame my students for being afraid, not when I’ve seen more antisemitic graffiti here in New York than anywhere I’ve been, particularly since Trump’s election.

Racism, antisemitism, and hate for Muslims, immigrants, the LGBT community, and women have all come out in the open since the day in November when everything changed. We all heard Trump’s discriminatory rhetoric during the campaign. None of this virulence is a surprise.

So the question becomes, “Now what?”.

Of course, there’s no right answer. The only wrong answer is inaction. In the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.

I can’t tell you what to do. I can only hope that if you’re angry or afraid or hurt or concerned, you choose to do something about it. We have clearly sat back for too long without making our voices heard and we can’t afford to do that again.

What To Do Now
There is literally no time to waste. This isn’t going away and it isn’t getting better. And it won’t, unless we decide to act.

While my friend and I drove to work on Friday, we made phone calls to a list of senators to ask that they not confirm Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. We left messages where we could but unsurprisingly, most of the mailboxes were full. The media have done an excellent job explaining why her appointment will be damaging to our schools. Here’s Trevor Noah’s take because if you’ve read this far, you could probably use a laugh.

If you’re in need of a starting point, Forbes, The Advocate, and Slate all provide viable suggestions for involvement. To summarize:

  • Donate to a variety of organizations that have pledged to support anyone in need of help in any number of ways
  • Attend marches and protests
  • Make phone calls to elected official
  • Volunteer for good causes that are short staffed
  • Run for local political office
  • Get involved with communities that need support
  • Change your consumption habits
  • Pay for good journalism

Doing anything is better than doing nothing.

Back in the Classroom
On a fundamental level, I think many problems in today’s society come back to education. We are living in a world that is incredibly diverse in every way, but those in power in America right now have decided that the world no longer matters. Trump’s “America First” means that we are discounting the vast majority of the world. America cannot survive alone. No country can. No country should.

I believe that we need to teach these lessons to our students so that they develop a nuanced understanding of how the world works, global interdependence, and the necessity of working together to advance overall well-being. Putting some people before all others will ultimately harm even more.

Over time, we have developed school systems that allow for little room to have these conversations and engage with the reality of a modern world. Schools insist on desks, bubble sheets, and testing when the rest of the world operates in clouds, inventions, and innovation. The vast majority of schools do not match the real world and do not prepare students for it. It is no wonder there is so much hatred, bigotry, and discrimination against so many different types of people; we don’t have the time and space, or even sometimes permission, in school to learn about what actually matters.

That’s one of the many reasons I am unequivocally opposed to Betsy DeVos as the new Secretary of Education. She has no sense of how the world works and therefore how to build an education system that prepares students to succeed in a future that we can hardly imagine today.

Our students need to be confronted with people who are different from them, ideas that are on opposite ends of the spectrum, crises around the globe today, and projects that aim to solve current world problems. Students today need space to develop their talents, direct their energies, and explore their questions. We need to think very seriously about what we want from our schools and we need to commit to building those schools.

In order to do that, we have to act. Now.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. -Aristotle