Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pondering and Politics

At TED-X in Grand Rapids a few years ago, I had a conversation with a woman I admire. We were chatting about the experience of the day, mutual experiences and the sharing of knowledge and information. She was involved with the GRPS school board and many leadership groups in GR. At that time, I had started to be involved at some small levels and she encouraged me to do more. I was slightly hesitant, under-confident even.  No really.  I know I’m smart in some ways, but definitely not in others. I talk a lot and have a passionate drive to work for the betterment of other, but I am definitely not the only one who has those attributes.  I am aware that I often operate in that gray area between effective and obnoxious. She very gently suggested that that might be needed. Then, not quite as gently, she suggested that I have things to say that people should hear. At the time, I did consciously become more active in our community in schools as well as leadership groups;  but I still prefer to work more under the radar which I have recently realized is not really meeting her challenge. 

I know that I cannot speak for all those without a voice, but I will now work to pick up her gauntlet in my area of LD and speak out more directly in our community about education. I will speak up more directly for individuals with learning disabilities and their families. I can’t guarantee that she is 100% correct and that everything I would choose to say is information people should hear, but I can guarantee that I will give it my best shot. 

My First Shot: Citizenship and Advocacy

I am an educated person and have a background in teaching social studies. I am engaged in my community and advocate strongly in areas related to education and equity. While I do engage in conversations and work related to public policy, again generally in areas of disabilities and/or education, I am not directly involved with what I have defined as politics. 

Following our latest Presidential election, just a few short months ago, I find that I have been unexpectedly pondering my definition of politics. I believe I have always mentally separated politics from policy a bit since, in my rationalization, politics was more the action of campaigning, making deals, and following a “party line” than it was the actual policy in print. Policy, to me, was what have the different parties and leaders finally been able to agree to enough which drives the rest of the work in the nation, state, city, etc… so basically, I have thought of policy more as the laws and politics more of the background action. 

After a period of pondering, I came to the conclusion that I needed to expand my understanding even further:  laws are actually procedures; policies frame how those procedures are carried out; and politics is how individuals and/or groups communicate their perspectives.  I tend to be a definition person, so I know I will look each of those up later, but I find that regardless of Webster’s version, there are some things that I must commit to within my own lexicon in order to be the best citizen I know how to be.
"What cannot be understood cannot be managed intelligently" - John Dewey. 
Our nation is currently in the middle of a tumultuous dialogue on what it means to be a good citizen. People are venting their frustrations and disgust with politicians and establishments. I have seen early commentary using the phrase "The Divided States of America". There is much to be fearful of; but that is not necessarily new. Fear tends to follow all significant change. Even so, the level of division and the dialogue surrounding this time of change deserves conscious attention. It is important to be vigilant as we work to understand the changes around us. This is likely to require many of us to change our habits; habits which organize our thinking, our speaking and our actions. 
"Habit is energy organized in certain channels. When interfered with, it swells as resentment and as an avenging force." - John Dewey
During this election cycle, habits were certainly interfered with; it was not a full cycle of "business as usual". I have no doubt that those changes where what kick started this particular round of pondering.  As a social studies teacher who is not involved directly in politics, I have followed a philosophy of biding the time through a presidency or a significant change in administration. We have a strong system of checks and balances so that no one person or entity can have total control over another, at least not for too long. What's four years right?  I believed the system of checks and balances to be in place and effective. It also takes a long time to see change at the federal level - usually.

There can be no question that this new administration is a historic one; in which ways has yet to be seen, but there will definitely be historic changes which have already begun. People across the nation and across party lines have been frustrated with status quo and have voiced that they want significant change. Significant change will quickly interfere with people's habits. We are already seeing the rise of the resentment and force. We now need to determine what we are going to do with it.

I cannot pretend to be knowledgeable in all areas in which we will see great change but I can step up and take responsibility for being knowledgeable in education. Not all aspects of education, but I do love to research and love a challenge, and can combine that with my knowledge and expertise in the field of learning differences. I will step up and take up the gauntlet as a champion for educational access and a voice to help develop a more educated populace. And, while I can't guarantee that everything I will choose to say is information people should hear (or even want to hear) I do guarantee that I will give it my best shot!

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