I don’t do neutrality

Photo courtesy of installingsocialorder.files.wordpress.com
Photo courtesy of installingsocialorder.files.wordpress.com

A recent Washington Post article features a letter written by a group of state and nationally recognized “Teachers of the Year” who have come out in opposition to Donald Trump.

Part of the premise of their letter is that while they are expected to remain politically neutral in their classrooms, they feel that they cannot in this particular election. I agree with not keeping silent on this particular candidate, but I completely disagree regarding remaining politically neutral and not expressing an opinion. While I recognize that there are students and families who have valid political leanings that differ from mine, I feel very strongly that part of my role as an educator is to model civic knowledge and engagement. I can do this without disparaging differing viewpoints. We live in a society where we have no problem discussing our favorite sports teams, movies, and television shows. But talk about something of relevance and substance, like religion or politics? Hell no! That might offend someone. Well, sorry, kids. That’s the real world, and in the real world, people have perspective and experience that may differ from yours. As the adults in the room, it’s our job to teach students how to have a respectful, thoughtful discussion, so that they don’t grow up thinking that the only way to engage is the shouting matches that they see on cable news.

In 2008, I was a public school teacher. At the time, I was very involved in volunteering for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, both in the primary and the general election. Rather than hide my political leanings and views, I decided that I would be “respectfully open”. I strived not to speak negatively about Hillary Clinton, his primary opponent, or John McCain, his general election opponent. Instead, I talked about my enthusiasm for Obama’s historic candidacy, and what it meant to me to be a part of the political process. I described some of the activities that I took part in, like voter registration, phone banking, going door to door, and traveling to nearby states to get out the vote. While my students and their families did not all have the same political leanings that I do, I think that my students saw a positive role model, an active and engaged citizen who was putting the time and effort in to be a part of the electoral process. They knew that as a music teacher, this wasn’t work that I was paid for; it was a labor of love for me. They were interested in my experiences, and as thrilled as I was when I received tickets to go to President Obama’s first inauguration.

I think that it is crucial for us adults to teach children that we can and should stand up for what we believe in, that we can be friends with those who see things differently than we do, that it is our obligation in a democracy to roll up our sleeves and do the work that is demanded of us. And so, like the teachers in the Washington Post article, I will not be neutral this election. I will not be neutral in any other election after this. Because the First Amendment affords me that right, and my students deserve to see passionate and devoted citizenship in action. #fuckneutrality