With election season upon us, like clockwork, the collective efforts to stifle the political opinions of educators has begun. Navigating this climate requires a nuanced dance, as we strive to reconcile our roles as public servants with our responsibilities as concerned citizens.
And why shouldn’t we be concerned?
Last week, I watched as a colleague was filleted on social media for expressing his disgust after rumors surfaced that President Trump made unflattering remarks about veterans, in addition to comments he unequivocally made about John McCain. In his post, the educator shared pictures of three generations of his family—himself included—serving in the U.S. military, with the simple message that his family of veterans was not made up of “losers.”
The backlash was immediate. Trump supporters swiftly emerged to express their repugnance that he had the audacity to voice his political opinion on social media, and they questioned the veracity of Trump’s alleged remarks (despite the fact that some of them are well-documented).
Then came the ever-expected, not-so-thinly veiled threats to his job, not to mention attempts to generate fear with the false assertion: This educator speaks his mind outside of the classroom, so he MUST be indoctrinating our children within his classroom!
Educators Are Not Teaching Students to Hate Their Country
It is this narrative which eventually caused my colleague to remove the post that paid homage to the veterans in his family, and which resulted in the threat of “a meeting” after a parent called to complain about his political views, as well as his willingness to express them on his own time.
I admit that I was somewhat thrust into the world of educational advocacy, and it isn’t always a role I enjoy. In fact, four short years ago, I was quite apolitical. But that was then, and this is now.
Efforts to Stifle Educator Voice Are Not New
These threatening tactics aren’t new, and it should come as no surprise that oppressive ideologies have applied to educators for generations. After all, teaching has historically been a female-dominated profession.
This has undoubtedly contributed to some outdated beliefs about the role of educators in society, beliefs which include stifling collective educator voice. Additionally, we have not moved beyond the inequities based on gender that exist within our profession, and we are not typically granted the same respect as public servants in male-dominated professions.
According to Dana Goldstein, this lack of trust in educators relates to our unique role:
We are seen as doing an anti-intellectual, working-class, feminized job, but we are also expected to fix so many of society’s problems, including poverty and inequality. Never has this level of societal expectation been more apparent than in the era of COVID-19, when our political leaders believe that our country might all but collapse without teachers physically present in classrooms with students five days a week.
Dana Goldstein, as cited in Williamson, 2020
But how dare we have a political opinion?
When individuals argue that “educators should never express their political views” what they’re really saying is “keep saying things that I don’t like and I will get you fired … I will come for your job.” It is a calculated form of censorship and oppression, one intended to remind educators of their inferior place in society. What’s even worse is that when educators utilize their own professional expertise to express their political concerns, they’re almost always attacked for doing so, even when commenting on education policy. In the scenario above, a veteran’s concerns were dismissed and discredited simply because he is now an educator.
What’s most ironic is that teaching is, in itself, a political act; moreover, the way in which schools are funded is completely political. Sadly, rather than recognizing how educators are uniquely positioned to comment on such politics, the public often engages in ad hominem attacks that threaten the messenger instead of focusing on what they’re actually saying. It’s an ingenious way to discredit educators who harbor reasonable concerns about our political landscape.
Because so many schools are funded by taxpayer dollars, there lies a general consensus that educators are “owned” by the public on their own personal time. And to be clear, educators should absolutely be held accountable for propagating personal beliefs rooted in racism, bigotry, chauvinism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Such problematic, oppressive values should incite fear as they can resurface in the classroom, negatively impacting the experiences of students in a very dangerous way.
Nonetheless, equating this fear with the act of expressing justifiable political concerns—and inaccurately suggesting that educators who do so on their own time are simultaneously influencing, indoctrinating, and manipulating their students within their classrooms—results in a false cause fallacy, one which I am eager to discredit.
Ultimately, none of the aforementioned threats will stop me from advocating for students or for education, which requires getting political on my own time.
Photo courtesy of the author.
Lindsey L. Jensen is the 2018 Illinois Teacher of the Year and the 2020 National Education Association Foundation for Teaching Excellence Illinois Awardee. She is Vice-President of the Illinois State Teachers of the Year Chapter, and she serves on the Illinois State Board of Education State Preparation and Licensure Board as an Illinois Education Association Representative. Lindsey is a Teach ...