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On Politics In Schools (posted 29 Jan 2017)


minor disclaimer I work for a media company; I don’t write for them. These thoughts are mine, not Univision’s.

There seems to be some kind of trend going on with the content in my Facebook feed. Either Facebook has changed the algorithms they use to populate the feed (and if so, too little too late jerks) or my conservative friends and family have become emboldened by the results of November’s election. The end result is the same: I see a lot more content that I find objectionable than I did even a few weeks ago.

I did ask for this. Once I got the anger out of my system, my second reaction to the election was to try and understand people that voted for Trump (or to a lesser extent people that weren’t able to hold their nose for Hillary Clinton). I made an open offer to discuss political articles with people in my friends list and, well, they delivered. This is ultimately a good thing–how can you fight what you don’t understand? Or something like that.

So I’m starting an experiment, where I take these articles that my friends and family are sharing on Facebook (and other sources if they arise) and, rather than leave a long-winded comment on the post of someone who would just as soon I not tell them they’re wrong, share it with a wider audience. Maybe you’re a conservative-minded individual that doesn’t mind seeing how the “other side” thinks about an issue*. Maybe you’re from one of those liberal cities and don’t really get exposed to this content. Either way, this is for you.

Well, really for me. >:)

A special thanks to the source of this article (you know who you are), as well as to my mother who helped me get some details straight.

Today’s Article: “Die!” High school teacher stages mock assassination of Trump

(Go ahead and read it, then come back)

### WARNING: Now would be the time to throw up your ad blocker if you think giving money to Fox News is immoral

Before I dive into the meat of this thing, just a quick note: that guns in schools joke is dumb. Not because it’s offensive to people that are concerned about real violence at school or in their neighborhoods, as well as people that can tell the difference between cheap see-through water pistols and real guns, but because it’s just not funny. Don’t quit your day job, Todd Starnes.

Speaking of Todd Starnes, this guy is a treasure trove of awful shit. Which makes me wonder: Is it just me, or has Fox decided to run too-right-wing-for-tv content on its website in order to compete toe-to-toe with Breitbart? Or was Fox News always this crazy? Either way, this dude wrote a book that I admittedly haven’t read but sounds a lot like that article that’s been going around about christofascism and home schools.

This essay comes in loud and swinging, making it sound like this lady was acting in a way that would scare people in a maybe-we-should-call-the-cops kind of way:

A Texas high school art teacher has been placed on administrative leave after video surfaced showing her “shooting” President Donald Trump inside a classroom while screaming, “Die!”

Of course, even the lede can’t avoid using quotes around “shooting.” It later continues:

The teacher, at W.H. Adamson High School in Dallas, posted the video to her Instagram account along with the following message: “Watching the #inauguration in my classroom like…#no #stop #denial #squirtgun #hypocrisy #powerless #saveusall #teachthembetter #atleastitsfriday.”

If you watch the video, it’s even more clear: Nobody was at all worried about this random teacher doing anything rash. I could go through this point-by-point (the medium? the hashtags?) but I feel like that would be too condescending.

At any rate: It’s pretty fucking rich when we see:

the school district would not say if students witnessed the teacher’s disturbing demonstration

or:

“The teacher has been placed on administrative leave and the district has opened an investigation. This is a personnel matter and as such we cannot comment.”

or even worse:

The Secret Service field office in Irving tells me they are aware of the incident, but declined further comment.

as though anyone was concerned about Trump’s safety. No, this is clearly about politics. Let’s call this what this is: This teacher was punished by her coworkers/student parents because she dared express her political opinions in public. We’ll get back to this.

The framing of this (non-)event seems like part of a greater pattern to me, wherein people attempt to replicate this series of events:

  1. Find an example of a liberal doing something only kinda bad–for instance, shouting mean things at a video, or lighting a trash can on fire
  2. Show it to a liberal and wait for them to admit that it was bad
  3. Shout “SEE BOTH SIDES DO IT” as though this excuses white nationalists

This is a tough one to deal with! Because you either fall into the trap, or you see the trap and decide to explain what’s going on in 6 paragraphs, or you refuse to admit that what the liberal was doing was even kinda bad. Which, I mean, this one isn’t even all that bad. But even if it were, it doesn’t hold a candle to shit like HB2.

Sorry, not sorry.

But let’s suppose we weren’t actually dealing with this sort of situation, and instead one where a teacher taught students some sort of political assessment about the current world. This is still objectionable. To quote the person that brought this article to my attention: “it is not a teacher’s job to teach or show their biased opinion to my child.”

I don’t know if this is common throughout the United States, but in my small town conservative Alaskan school district, this was a really common theme growing up. People seem to treat politics the way they treat religion: There are multiple truths, and it’s up to a parent to decide which “truth” is the correct one for their children. In this theory, teaching your children conservative dogma is a tool for instilling values into them, and if the children discover communism in college, hey you tried, they’re the ones that failed.

I figure that teenagers are okay at thinking for themselves. After all, we expect them to say smart things about banned books and American history prior to Hoover. At the very least, a given child’s peers are going to be developing political opinions, if only by borrowing what they’ve heard at home. I certainly never had any problems distinguishing between objective fact, political theory and utter bullshit. I don’t think my peers did either, beyond impairments that they retain as adults (zing!). After all, many students would get upset when a teacher would advocate young earth creationism in schools (one teacher actually invited a pastor to speak during lunch!), or brag about getting fired from a previous school district for saying that he thought AIDS was god punishing the gays. Despite being in a conservative borough, the particular town that many of my teachers came from was full of progressives, granolas, and sadly as I would later learn, contrails conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxers, so it’s not as though I didn’t have liberal teachers just as likely to say something dumb; it’s just that the most offensive thing I ever heard them say was that gay people should be allowed to get married. Dangerous thoughts, I know. Regardless: Teenagers are as ready as they’ll ever be. Free speech, amirite? Anything else is admitting that you plan on brainwashing your child.

Still, this doesn’t really talk about how to deal with politics around younger kids, which maybe aren’t quite ready for such adult themes. There’s an incident that happened when I was in 5th grade that I think is relevant. Hopefully I can bring this one home.

We had a class project where we had to pick a war and do an analysis on it. Most kids picked something from their history books: like the battle of the bulge, something that had been put into a nifty little container and removed at least 50 years from the modern day. Not me. I fucking picked the (at the time ongoing) war in Kosovo.

Now, I was the sort of kid that really trusted his parents and their simplified explanations of how the world works up to that point. I’d even toyed with religion, having received creationist schlock but with dinosaurs so kids like it from my grandfather. The world was a simple place: Democrats liked to spend money like a kid in a candy shop, while republicans were the one smart enough to save up for like 80 boxes of raisin bran or something (the responsible choice!).

This particular teacher frankly didn’t like me that much. I’m honestly not that sure why. But the day I decided to take on this project, was the day he got really pumped about filling my head with liberal dogma! If memory serves, he really wanted to teach me that NBC was giving unreliable coverage of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia because General Electric (a partial owner of NBC) was in the business of manufacturing bombs used by NATO. In retrospect, I can sympathize with this position but can understand why my mother wouldn’t have been all that thrilled (aside from her own political beliefs). Before there were liberal twitter memes, there were chain letters and email forwards. My teacher printed out all the stuff he had and sent it home with me. I remember one particular piece that started out with, “Hi! I’m a cluster bomb!” Stuff like that. My mom got annoyed enough to talk to my teacher in person.

Having rejected my teacher’s printouts like my mom would have wanted me to, I got to work. Like any good liberal-at-heart, I did exactly what got me into this “reading Fox News blogs on a Friday night” predicament in the first place: I said to myself, “wowee people sure seemed fired up about these Albanian dudes, why are the Serbians mad surely they’re reasonable people!” I didn’t really understand what nationalism was back then. My mental model was similar to kids being mad at each other on the playground over the score of a tetherball game.

To make a long story short, nobody noticed this whole time that my school report was turning into me reading and parroting Serbian nationalist propoganda. Nobody noticed! Nobody said anything either, if I remember correctly, which was surprising.

So this is how I feel about discussing politics with children: Yes, okay, there are some political opinions that are just that–opinions. My elementary school teacher had an opinion about the reliability/bias of NBC. For a child that can’t distinguish between opinions and objective reality, it’s probably important to not plant unvetted ideas in their heads (was NBC giving the Kosovo War favorable coverage in order to make more money on selling cluster bombs? While I wouldn’t put it completely past them, I’d like to believe that even NBC would have had qualms, especially in ‘98). I’ll give you that.

But there are some ideas that are directly linked to political stance, that have to be talked about. If you’re going to let a child ask questions about a war involving nationalism on all sides, you should probably try to give an explanation of what nationalism is, and you should take the political stance that nationalism is Bad. Yes, even with children that aren’t ready to discuss whether NATO did the right thing.

This is particularly relevant today, with the election of Donald Trump. Make no mistake, a lot of the things he stands for are objectively wrong. Xenophobia is wrong. Religious tests are wrong. Censoring science is wrong. These are things that perhaps “shouldn’t be” political, yet here we are. It’s important that teachers of younger children specifically teach that these things are wrong. But maybe it doesn’t look like linking your students twitter memes. That’s fine.

For instance, the same person that shared this article also shared a photo of another teacher’s whiteboard (if that link doesn’t work, hit me up and I’ll cross post to imgur). In it, the author tells their students to “celebrate the differences in others”, to practice self-care and that “love and kindness rule!!”

Now, I don’t know that teacher’s political beliefs, but I somehow don’t think the lesson was about bringing the nation together. These are the sort of things that someone worried about Trump’s xenophobia racism, and treatment of women’s issues and LGBT issues would write, in a way that’s highly appropriate for second graders.

Some might say this is “liberal indoctrination.” I disagree. If indoctrinating people against nationalism is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

* Note: Presenting the clusterfuck that is American politics as only having two sides is a pet peeve of mine. But that’s another story…