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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Moving Forward In Spite Of The Anti-Union Bill

Some teachers chose to go and protest. Others chose not to protest. There were those who chose to call in “sick” to go and protest; some chose to call in “sick” as a protest. Many chose to stay and teach. All of these voices have been “heard” in some way. Any one of these choices cannot be used as a ruler to measure an individual teacher's dedication to the profession or their commitment to the classroom.
Choosing to sacrifice a few days of school now is seen by many as insignificant when compared to the long term impact of this legislation. That is just as easy to understand as the counter argument that the inconveniences caused to parents is counter productive to our cause. I believe that we can agree there is valid reasoning on all sides.

Yet I'm also certain that there are teachers amongst us who support Governor Walker and this bill; these are the people who probably feel most alone right now. This controversy has brought the rest of us together to a degree that I've never seen before, while this group is excluded.

While I cannot agree with this last group on their politics, I also cannot agree that they are less worthy of respect or of having their voice heard. We cannot let this issue be yet another wedge to divide us. Instead we have to support each other as much as possible. We have to try to understand our colleagues whatever their position. We still have to work together, we all still (for now) have a job to do, and we do that job more effectively when we work together.

As a personal example of this, I had to resist greatly the urge to remove contacts from Facebook who expressed an opinion counter to mine on this issue. It is unhealthy to shut out anyone who disagrees with you. As long as it is done in a respectful way, it is good to have people willing to call you on you opinions and make you back them up.

Many of these same issues come up in connection with the students we work with. Some support the effort to stop the bill while others support Governor Walker. There have even been groups of students who have walked out in protest over this bill. While I am personally very grateful to these students, I cannot allow a political issue to influence the quality of education I give to individual students.

In fact, this very issue provides a great teachable moment. I have talked with many colleagues who are finding ways to deal with their personal political stance while still instructing students about the political mechanisms at work. I am very proud to work with so many people who care so much about the students they work with and endeavor to respect all of them.

I first want to make my students understand the importance of the democratic process; elections have consequences so it is incredibly important to get to know the candidates. More importantly, I want to emphasize to my students that life is complex, not simple.

This is not an issue of blue versus red or Democrat against Republican or liberal and conservative. The reasons Governor Walker proposed this bill are complex and the reasons it is being opposed so historically are equally complex. Since my discipline is English, I don't really have the chance to work through these complex issues with students in my curriculum. I can, however, encourage my students to reject any overly simplistic explanation as they try to understand the complexity of what is happening.

I can also model an acceptance of and attempt to understand differing opinions that they will all need (for this issue and for many to come the remainder of their lives); we need a generation that can rise above petty squabbles and make real progress. I can show them that a hardship (as the passage of this bill will be) should not interfere with obligations. I will show them what it means to do a job you are proud of even when that job is in jeopardy.

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