Tag Archives: Politics

What’s in the News?

At the beginning of December, a student gave a presentation in which he noted that the headlines of every major news source referenced Covid-19. He’d had to click through a website to find an article on a shooting at Kabul University that left 22 students dead. Why, he wondered, was this not headline news everywhere? He went on to talk about bias in the way that knowledge is presented and his presentation was compelling enough that I am still thinking about it over a month later.

I stopped listening to NPR for several weeks back in March and April when it seemed like the US had just woken up to Covid-19 and everything that had happened in the rest of the world was completely irrelevant. The myopia was stunning and it was exhausting to continuously come up against individuals’ seeming inability to look outside of themselves. It didn’t matter that Covid-19 had been in Asia and Europe for months by then. All of a sudden, it was not only headline news but the only news.

I wish I had been able to experience a world in which news was not all-consuming. I wonder what it would be like to read about events like Covid-19, or democracy protests in Hong Kong and Belarus, or the insurrection on the US Capitol as they became relevant and not as part of communal obsession. I wonder why we can’t let go and why we refresh webpages by the minute hoping for an update. I do not know a world in which we have patiently waited.

What would it be like if global events were not immediate fodder for anyone with a smart phone? What is the psychological impact of the constant barrage of breaking news, memes, and opinions from people who may or may not be qualified to give them? Would we become more deliberate, more thoughtful, more willing to listen if information flow slowed down? And would we be more humble and less partisan as a result?

In order to make the world a more peaceful, more just place, we need to be informed. We need to know what is happening and why, and we need to talk with or listen to those who know more than we do. Many people speak of the importance of different perspectives, but are also unwilling to engage with those who offer them.

Learning is not a zero-sum game. Entering a conversation with one idea and leaving with another does not mean you have “lost” and they have “won”. Rather, it means that your perspectives have broadened, ideas have become more nuanced, and you are able to appreciate complexity. After all, if global problem solving were easy, we wouldn’t have global problems.

When information sharing becomes a battle of who can yell the loudest, we have moved away from the process that builds democratic society. We cannot live in a world that has abandoned dialogue.

I had a conversation with an administrator recently in which he lamented that students are not willing to talk about their concerns or about issues they have raised. They want not just a solution but their solution, and they refuse invitations to sit down and actually have a conversation. This is not a surprise, for dialogue is not modelled for young people today. It is not part of politics, it is not part of the media, it does not appear in formal debate. The other side is vilified when it is presented at all, and experts sneered at. Again, this is not a surprise in an age where anyone can present an opinion and start a campaign on the basis of how many people they can convince to join them.

Yesterday I read an article from the US that mentioned increased interest in civics education, but my thoughts immediately went to the political divisions that will only deepen in written curricula. I would argue further that a lack of civics education is not at the root of the problem of political polarisation. Rather, there is an unwillingness to take a step back and listen. Perhaps there is even a real fear of what we might learn or come to understand. This is preventing us from doing the difficult work of coming together.

And until we are ready to feel uncomfortable, to honestly say, “Thank you for explaining that. I hadn’t thought of it that way”, we are going to remain exactly as we are.

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.


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


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.



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.