Friday, January 20, 2017

The Responsibility of Citizenship

Living in a rural county in a red state, I have many friends who openly support our president-elect, and I can honestly say that each of them is a very good person. Many of them feel an emboldened sense of entitlement after Mr. Trump pulled off the biggest upset in this country’s history (with a little help from his friends). The following is my personal viewpoint on this week’s impending life-changing inauguration.

In a few short hours, @realDonaldTrump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. He will place his thin-skinned, nepotistic Twitter fingers on a holy book that he hasn’t read and take an oath that he won’t keep to protect a Constitution that he clearly doesn’t understand. But he won, however unfairly, and he now has a job to do. Nothing will be the same four years from now. The environment, civil rights, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance, public education, 74 consecutive months of job growth, and women’s health are among the many things that I expect to decline during this presidency.

I could be wrong. It’s happened before, and I would love nothing more than to be wrong about this. I don’t cheer for Mr. Trump to fail because, in so doing, I would be cheering for the suffering of the real underdogs in this scenario--my brothers and sisters across this country and around the world who are electing right-wing populist candidates in hopes that they will finally be represented by someone who truly understands their plight of living paycheck-to-paycheck and even then not really getting by. I get it. As a public school teacher supporting a family of four, I’m right there with you.

As a public school teacher, I’m also unwilling to accept any more finger-pointing about why things can’t get done. You see, an essential part of my growth-mindset as a teacher is that I attempt to maintain an open mind about which learning strategies will work in the classroom. I’m willing to try almost anything if it will help my students learn more efficiently than they did before. If you show me a teacher who is unwilling to try new things, then I’ll show you a teacher who probably needs to find something else to do. My open mind helps me be willing to allow the Republicans to remind Americans how they govern. I enter my classroom every morning with a  smile on my face and determined to do an excellent job because, in theory, I only have 200 days to work miracles (and if you don’t think that learning is a miraculous endeavor, then you haven’t studied the psychology behind it). Teachers fight against a constantly changing, pro-privatization landscape--where lobbyists ensure that the cards are stacked against us--and where we stare in the face of increasingly high expectations to reach every child and motivate them to learn, whether they want to learn something that day or not. Yet, public school teachers across this state yield superb results year after year. We are driven to teach the students who are in front of us and we understand that making excuses is an exercise in futility.

Likewise, the Republican Party fought hard to inherit a dysfunctional political system--part of which is their own obstructionist fault. They are now in charge of correcting what isn’t working. Doing so would require them to shore up division within their own party in a political era where “party leaders” are largely a relic of the past. As a concerned father of two beautiful daughters, and as a father in loco parentis of over 100 children every year, I will be intently watching their every move. Undoubtedly, the time will come when I will need to shift from father and educator to activist, and I hope that every citizen is willing to do the same. America loves a good underdog story, and there are no greater underdogs than our children.

Regardless of political affiliation, we all share the the desire to leave this world a better place for our kids than it was for us. We all want America to be great, and we must be willing to act and have our voices heard. In the words of President Obama in his farewell address: “All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging. Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. We, the people, give it meaning — with our participation, and with the choices that we make and the alliances that we forge.”

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