There is no doubt that our nation is more divided than ever. Every topic seems to have been politicized. Even science, which by its nature is trying to find the truth, always questioning itself and changing the rules when new evidence comes to light, is believed or not believed based on a political affiliation. It makes me simultaneously angry and sad.
Education has become one of those political flashpoints and one of the main reasons teachers are leaving, they don't feel valued as professionals in the education space. Fixing K-12 education at this moment is going to be difficult enough, we can't let political agendas dictate what is best for our students. Part of the reason I was so excited to come to DC was to find hope that our nation wasn't in complete disarray. Don't get me wrong, there is some messed up stuff happening here in DC, but there is hope. I have found hope.
I have witnessed 2 hearings at the Education and Labor (sorry- Education and the Workforce) committee in my time here. For hearings, the majority party invites 3 witnesses and the minority party invites 1 witness. These witnesses are experts in their field. Last fall, the minority witness was the Tennessee's Education Commissioner, Dr. Penny Schwinn. Tennessee has made tremendous strides in recruiting and retraining teachers as well as addressing the learning loss of their students using the COVID funding. The minority members of the committee kept asking her questions that were clearly politically motivated, but she refused to engage, continually shifting her message back to the positive progress her state has made for teachers and students.
Just last week, the 2nd hearing took place. I was encouraged because out of the 3 witnesses for the majority party, only one was obviously political, having no experience in the education space. With a few exceptions, the questions for the other witnesses stayed on message, how the federal government can help schools. Here is Congressman DeSaulnier asking questions at the hearing.
So where does my hope come from? From Congressman DeSaulnier and others like him. He still believes in reaching across the aisle and having conversations and developing relationships with those who have a different life perspectives, leading to differences in opinion. This country has lost the ability to engage in mature dialogues while maintaining relationships. Congressman DeSaulnier serves as an example of what we have lost, but more importantly, he serves as an example of how it should be.
If there is hope in Congress, then there is hope for our schools. Too often in education, the administration and teachers seem to be in opposition. We all want what is best for students, but we frequently have different opinions on how to get there. How do we break the stalemate? Administrators need to recognize that the teachers, the ones with the boots on the ground, are the experts. Then they need to make sure teachers have a permanent and majority presence at the decision-making table. You want data, ask the teachers. You want ideas about how to fix the problems in the classrooms, ask the teachers. If I want advice about a complex medical issue, I go to a doctor who specializes in that area. It should be no different for education.
District and building administrators need to genuinely reach across the aisle to the teachers and the teachers need to do the same. For our students sake, we must work together. If every conversation starts by acknowledging our common goal, then there is hope.