I can’t pinpoint the moment, but there was an instant sometime in the last couple of weeks where I sort of went numb to what is happening around me. I can’t be the only one. We have had hurricanes, mass shootings, the North Korean threat, fights about athletes kneeling during the national anthem, and in my own school district there were cyber threats made against our students and schools. That is just some of what has been happening in our world in the last few weeks.
I want to engage with it all. I have opinions that I think might add to conversation. But I had an epiphany in the last few days: we’re not listening to each other any more. For all of the talking on TV news, for all of the posting on social media, for all of the energy devoted to expressing our thoughts, NO ONE IS LISTENING. You are either for the mayor of San Juan or for President Trump. The conversation isn’t about how to improve our efforts to provide relief to the people of Puerto Rico, it is about who is right and who is wrong. If you support someone’s right to kneel or sit during the national anthem, you are insulting our soldiers and our country. We aren’t permitted to have a nuanced conversation about what it means to peacefully protest injustice. Guns. Well, let’s just admit that we can’t have a thoughtful conversation about guns.
We are all to blame of course. The 21st century social media landscape allows us to live inside an echo chamber with just short glimpses of what happens outside of that cocoon. We search out sources and memes that simply reinforce our already deeply held positions. If someone shares a view that does not align with our own beliefs we attack them. There aren’t any real conversations anymore because NO ONE IS LISTENING.
We have to recognize that it makes it easier for those with extreme agendas when they divide us and distract us. The deep divisions in our country aren’t happening by accident. We are being divided because there are people who know that their agendas are aided by a divided country. While we may disagree on who is causing the division on any particular issue, can’t we all agree that there are forces that are trying to divide us?
The problem is that we are expending all of our energy just talking into that echo chamber. We are being distracted from challenges that we can solve by fighting over things that we can’t change. There have to be enough of us who want to start having conversations about things that matter to make a difference right? If we become a country where we do nothing but take sides on the “hot” issue of the day and get distracted from the real needs of our neighborhoods and communities then we have lost our way.
As a teacher I want our country to talk about public education. I truly believe that if our communities began to have a real conversation about what we want for our young people that we could transform our schools, but we get distracted and divided. We have been led to believe that a market-based competition approach will change schools or that we must stick with the status quo. There are those whose agendas are served if we believe that those are the only two options our schools. Of course, that’s not true.
What if we could find some things we all agree on? What if all agreed that what works in Grand Island, Nebraska might not work in Flint, Michigan? What if we all agreed that we want our young people to have more authentic learning experiences? What if we all agreed that standardized tests weren’t the only way to measure success for our students? What if we really did something to make sure there was a great teacher in every classroom? What if we committed to providing students with more unique learning opportunities in their schools (the arts, industrial technology, family and consumer sciences, world languages, the list goes on and on)?
Isn’t that a conversation we could have? If we can agree on some of those things, the next step is to figure out how to create change, but nothing will happen if we don’t listen to each other. Nothing will happen if we get distracted by those who wish to divide us. I don’t want to hear that now is not the time to have this conversation. We have to have this conversation now because it is important and it is achievable.
I am weary. I am guessing many of you are weary as well. We wake up each day being bombarded with news that puts us on edge. We have to focus on the things we can control. We have to stop being distracted and change the narrative from the things that divide us to the aspirations we all have for our communities. My issue is public education, I encourage you to find your issue and start a conversation, but most importantly, let’s all start to LISTEN to each other.