While bad takes on public education from people who are not educators are a dime a dozen on Twitter, this weekend I was treated to a truly astounding bad take:
The hashtag and sentiment in this tweet are part of a movement that seeks to “de-politicize” education. Debates over the political nature of education are nothing new, of course. But as of late, proponents of the idea that education (and, by extension, educators) shouldn’t be political have joined forces with those who seek to remove books they deem unsavoury from libraries and classrooms and interfere with the teaching of antiracist and inclusive curricula. They’re the ones with slogans like “education, not indoctrination” and also overlap with the crowd who have co-opted “woke” and “groomer” and other such terms to mean wildly different things from their original definitions.
I don’t have the time (or stomach) to wade too deeply into this quagmire, but I wanted to talk about this tweet and why I think it is so incredibly misguided.
Educators must be a part of the community we serve. Statements like the one above assert the opposite: that educators should be objective and aloof.
This is a bad idea and also ignores/devalues the extra emotional labour that educators (not just teachers) do. Kids need human connection. Your kid is going to be spending more time during the day with their teachers than with you. We can’t just teach them math when they are crying because they got bullied or because their skin colour is similar to that of the person who was shot by police last night or because they have relatives in a country being invaded by an elderly man who calls himself President. We don’t “#JustTeach.” We never have. To ignore this, or to say we shouldn’t do these things, is both ahistorical and absurd.
But then again, there is a significant neoliberal and conservative contingent that would like to reduce education to a transaction. They would like us to be nothing more than glorified service workers, and preferably to replace us altogether with algorithms and artificial intelligence. It would be cheaper.
It won’t happen—or at least, it could happen, but the result won’t be anything that actually resembles an effective education system. It will be a sham.
The thing is, there are actual progressive people who also jump aboard the #JustTeach train in the name of “free speech” or “critical thinking” or a half dozen other sophistries. At the end of the day, even if John were one of those people, his statement would still be saturated in a saccharine kind of self-righteousness that only comes from having an identity so normalized in our society that it never feels political.
If you think you can take the politics out of something, you need to stop and ask yourself why you think that. Chances are it’s because you’re making assumptions about what is “normal” that match with your experiences because you are privileged enough never to have those assumptions challenged. Trust me: for racialized, queer, and poor folx, politics are unavoidable.
I don’t want to be an activist. I want to read books on my deck and drink tea and listen to Taylor Swift an ungodly amount of times. But states keep trying to legislate me (as a trans person) out of existence, and provincial governments keep trying to vilify me (as an educator) and suck the soul out of my profession and our public education system. I don’t want to be political, yet here we are. I am literally under attack, and even if I weren’t (because let’s face it, I’m white and definitely have my self-righteous, saccharine moments), some of my students have always been.
So I will fight for a more equitable education system. I will fight for a more equitable society. I will tell my students about my politics and my culture and my queerness and my musical interests, and I will connect with them and be a better teacher to them for it. They’re going to remember me, but more importantly, they’re going to remember that they were safe, and they were seen. They’re going to feel connected to me and to each other human in their class, and in this often scary world, connection matters.
They won’t remember you, John.
Cover image by Clay Banks.