One of my favorite movies is "Gladiator". Great acting throughout, even if a bit dramatic at times. One of my favorite Richard Harris roles without a doubt. His time in the movie is short, but features a great bit of dialogue between Harris' Marcus Aurelius and Russell Crowe's Maximus- "There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile." The Caesar was making a reference to the "ideal" of Rome, and how it compared to the reality. He was expressing a desire for Rome to live up to its ideal. I've thought a lot about that recently.
I teach government. I love politics and government. I am more than aware of the expectations leveled on a government teacher. As a public servant it is my job to help ensure that my students will leave our four walls knowing, at the least, a basic understanding of how their government operates. You can see it in the prologue of the Indiana Government Standards, which state:
United States Government provides a framework for understanding the purposes, principles, and practices of constitutional
representative democracy in the United States. Responsible and effective participation of citizens is stressed. Students
understand the nature of citizenship, politics, and governments and understand the rights and responsibilities of citizens and
how these are part of local, state, and national government. Students examine how the United States Constitution protects
rights and provides the structure and functions of various levels of government.
Interesting words here- "purpose", "responsible", "effective", "citizenship"...it's an expectation of me to push these words, these ideas, to inspire a desire to participate, vote, trust in their government. That has never been harder than it is right now.
Now before anyone starts claiming that this teacher is now going to start pushing some kind of agenda on his students, check it. I've always held the philosophy that I must ensure that multiple perspectives are heard in our classroom, and that this requires me to keep personal thoughts largely to myself when in the croom. But my students are not blind. They read the news, they watch the proceedings on C-SPAN. They really do. And they see what I see: a government focused on political game play rather the best interest of the people.
Yesterday I posted my reasons for fighting against the confirmation of Betsy Devos as Education Secretary. I've been joined by countless educators, parents, and private citizens across the country in calling our Senators and expressing our frustration in such a pick. By any measure Mrs. Devos is remarkably unqualified to hold this position. She is unqualified to be a teacher for that matter. In a recent interview with Erica Hill on "On The Story", a Devos surrogate defended her with the claim that she met "minimum qualifications"...at which point I shook my head in bewilderment. In a country filled with actual educators, the best we can do is someone who meets "minimum qualifications" (a statement which is, in itself, questionable). Monday morning, at 6:30am, the Senate will begin voting on Mrs. Devos, and it would appear that, despite two Republican Senators stating that they will not vote for the nominee, the vote will end in a tie, at which point the Vice President, as his Constitutional duty prescribes, will cast the tie-breaking vote putting Mrs. Devos into the position of Secretary of Education. The reality of this is sobering to say the least, but what this represents is far more depressing.
As I mentioned in my post yesterday I've been around politics for a while. I know that I won't like everyone elected to public office, I won't like every decision they make, and I won't like every Cabinet Secretary a President nominates. I don't have to, as it is the nature of American republicanism that the officials elected to represent us are not always the ones for whom I voted. But I should be able to expect qualified individuals to hold a position of influence and power. I should expect that someone who will be "America's Top Educator" to actually be an educator. But that won't happen; on Monday the Senate will confirm Mrs. Devos. And in the absence of a vote based on legitimate qualifications, I have to assume that the "yea" votes will be based purely on politics, and not out of a true desire to do the right thing. This. Is. Depressing.
And it is not a Republican problem; Democrats are every bit a part of this problem as well. I'm tasked with teaching the "ideal" when my students are fully aware of the reality, and when they ask me the inevitable "Why" when it comes to government action, it is getting increasingly harder to answer. It is truly difficult to combat increasing levels of cynicism in our students when I'm trying to combat it myself.