I tried to read The Audacity of Hope my first year teaching. I got through the introduction, absorbing nothing, and left it in my classroom for months, not interested enough to finish it.
This baffles me now, as I struggle to set it down for the night at page 76, in the middle of the chapter about our Constitution.
Growing up, politics haven’t ever been my niche. I like to be an expert on things before I make decisions on them (part of what makes teaching so few years so difficult on a daily basis), and I have always felt and said that I didn’t know enough about politics to have any real opinions about them. I know that, like most people, my opinions closely follow what I know of my parents’. I know that my job allows me to have much more insight into things like poverty and education. I know that the election for our next (or continuing) president is less than two months away.
Our next field trip, we hope, will be to the state capital. After getting a new license and plate for my car, I got my Arkansas voter’s registration in the mail. Still, I feel unqualified to vote.
I think this is tragic and dangerous.
As someone who is a citizen of the country, an active component of the economy, essentially a government worker, and educated enough to know how important my voice is, I should be enthralled to vote. Right?
With November looming, I remember the Bush v Kerry election and how it was portrayed in schools. I remember having a mock election, with Bush winning. I don’t know if I learned much about politics besides the importance of a presidency, the ability to vote, and a person’s loyalty becoming so vocal so quick– but that’s the point, right? For a 13-year-old, at least?
I’m curious how to teach my students anything about the election, and how to supplement our trip to the Arkansas capital. I’m of course going to call and ask suggestions from the staff there; I’m positive they have programs and suggestions available, but I’m still worried. Worried to teach something I don’t know, and worried that my students will grow to misunderstand something so important.
I also wonder how appropriate it is to start encouraging my students’ parents to vote. Is that dangerous territory, for a teacher? It feels like telling them to pray, though my logic knows that’s an insane principle.
There’s a part of me that feels a little embarrassed when I park in our school’s lot, my Obama 2012 sticker singing in bright blue from the back of my ’98 Camry. Is my old Frances-car an embarrassment to the campaign? Are all the conservative teachers laughing at me?
But the more I read this book, the more confident I am in my sticker. Though I still need to read and learn more about Romney aside from these irritating 47% jokes, I’m realizing that the gut faith I have is well-placed. Reading Obama’s words from 2006 give me renewed faith in Obama 2012:
All the money in the world won’t boost our student achievement if parents make no effort to instill in their children the values of hard work and delayed gratification. But when we as a society pretend that poor children will fulfill their potential in dilapidated, unsafe schools with outdated equipment and teachers who aren’t trained in the subjects they teach, we are perpetrating a lie on these children, and on ourselves. We are betraying our values.
Like many conservatives, I believe in the power of culture to determine both individual success and social cohesion, and I believe we ignore cultural factors at our peril. But I also believe that our government can play a role in shaping that culture for the better– or for the worse.
And my favorite
Whether we’re from red states or blue states, we feel in our gut the lack of honesty, rigor, and common sense in our policy debates, and dislike what appears to be a continuous menu of false or cramped choices… [W]hat’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics, the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem... If we fail to help, we diminish ourselves.