By TEA President Beth Brown
Responding to an article that I shared on social media, one of my high school classmates recently expressed his desire to play a more active role in his daughters’ education. He said, “I want what is best for my girls and everyone else’s kids as well…The problem is we can’t just care. We have to care AND act. Too many people say they care, but they want someone else to put in the effort…I hope to continue to do my part.”
I thanked my old friend and told him that one of the best ways he could support his girls and their teachers is to vote for pro-public education candidates, for every educational decision is political. Every. Single. One.
Educational decisions are made by elected officials at the local, state and national levels. Regardless of the level of decision making, though, every major decision regarding public education is made by people that we, the voters, elect.
Elected officials determine what resources are available to students; what textbooks are used in classrooms; the availability of technology within schools; what calendar students, educators, and their families follow; the policies that guide student and employee conduct; whether an educator is granted due process; the standards that are taught; how educators are compensated; how educators are evaluated; and how much state standardized testing is required.
As a high school English teacher, I would never try to tell my doctor how to do her job; I lack her medical expertise. I would never tell my stylist how to do his job, for I lack his expertise. I would never tell my mechanic how to do her job. Why? I lack her expertise. Yet over the course of my seventeen-year career as an educator, I have repeatedly witnessed elected officials with no educational experience make decisions that dictate every aspect of my job without consulting the experts: public school educators.
I understand why so many educators want to avoid politics. We entered this great profession because we were inspired by our own teachers, because we love our subject, because we enjoy the challenge and variety, and, most of all, because we want to make a difference in the lives of our students. We did not enter education because we wanted to be lawmakers or policymakers. However, voting for pro-public education candidates is as important as any of the other actions we take in our classrooms and in our schools. We would never refuse to write lesson plans, to grade papers, or to attend departmental or grade-level meetings. Unfortunately, too many educators fail to vote—or they vote for candidates who do not support public education.
Kerry Washington, star of the ABC hit political thriller Scandal, said “You may not be thinking about politics, but politics is thinking about you.” Though we might like to, educators cannot afford to “get out of politics.” So, when I go to the ballot box on August 2nd, I will cast my vote for candidates who have demonstrated that they are committed to public education and to consulting the experts—educators—when making decisions about what is best for Tennessee’s public schools.
Education is political. Educators cannot afford not to be political. However, education must be a bipartisan issue. As we here at TEA like to say, “It’s not about R. It’s not about D. It’s about E!”
I give you the same advice that I gave my old classmate: vote. Vote for education-friendly candidates. Encourage your family, your friends, and your acquaintances to vote for education-friendly candidates. Our students’ futures and the fate of public education depend on it.