When Schools Get Political, What Should Teachers Do?

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Michele Kerr

Michele Kerr lives in California, for her sins.

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207 Responses

  1. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    I love this! Excellent post, and it’s good to hear about a teacher trying to create students engaged in critical thought about political action.Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy says:

    ““They aren’t teaching you about politics,” I said. “They are involving you in achieving a political goal.””

    This is the crux of the matter here.

    It is often said that a teacher’s job isn’t to teach kids what to think but how to think. I disagree with this somewhat as I do think there is a place and time for the installation of values and ideals (#indoctrination!). But I still value skills (how) over information (what).

    But whay you’re describing is several steps further. It is neither what or how. It is, “Here is what WE think and want and we will leverage you all to achieve it.”

    No. Just no. Kudos to you.Report

  3. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    It’s disappointing that schools don’t understand how ineffective and unpersuasive it is to mobilize their students for more money for schools. I support public schools and have voted for every tax hike on my ballot, but the optics on this are bad because the self-interest is apparent, and it’s not clear who is the audience.

    Chicago schools send students to the State Capitol every year to protest for better funding. It’s a 3 to 4 hour trip, and the usual retort from man-on-street is how the school can afford a coach when City Hall is closer, and why aren’t they in school learning instead of being used by their teachers? Also, the location of the rallies are so distant from where the legislators work (and they know where the tunnels are anyway), that there would be no chance the legislators would know about the demonstrations by their simple existence. Ostensibly, this is supposed to be a learning trip, not political activism, but I suppose the kids learn that at least that kind of political activism doesn’t work.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      The average person on the street sounds kind of thick. The situation in a lot of schools seems really bad. The NYTimes had a featuready night where they interviewed teachers about the conditions of their schools. Everything was falling apart. The textbooks, the chairs, the building itself. And seemingly the American
      Public does not care and says “Who needs book learning? Check mate libs!!”

      It’s a disgrace.Report

  4. Avatar pillsy says:

    Really great post.Report

  5. Avatar Em Carpenter says:

    Was there opportunity to actually present the issue to the students, to allow them to make an informed decision beyond “I don’t care”? I think your approach of not pushing them to participate or not was appropriate, and would make you a good candidate to present the issues as neutrally as possible to your students. Ill informed apathy is, in my view, no better than ill-informed zealousness.Report

  6. Avatar Roland Dodds says:

    Well said Michele. I am also a teacher and have dealt with similar concerns in my 10 years on the job. Thankfully, I have never been in a situation like you describe. I am actually a bit shocked by the behavior of the teachers mobilizing students the way they did and then shamming teachers who didn’t actively recruit. I have never seen anything like that first hand, and I teach in the Bay Area.

    While I recognize education is never value-neutral and will always result in some folk criticising any perceived attempt at “indoctrinating” children, it is in public education’s best interest to simply let students organize themselves to address problems they see in our society. We can teach them how to do that through the lens of historical analysis, but it will almost surely be better for the students if they take on activism without being conducted by their teachers.Report

  7. Avatar Aaron David says:

    Wonderful post! I wish that more teachers were like you, actually teaching critical thinking.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I don’t know. It seems to me that the Hess quote only applies when kids are used for left-leaning political causes. No one bats an eye or uses caution when right-wing Fundamentalists zealots use kids to promote anti-abortion or guns everywhere. It is always treated as uncouth to do so.

    But the situation with school funding thing is rather dire and never seems to get better. The rich send their kids to private school and only care for tax cuts. On the tax thread I mentioned the Holmes quote that “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” Seemingly lots of Americans are fine with zero levels of sophistication.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David says:

      Yes, taxes are the price we pay for civilization, but this isn’t a good use of taxes. If in fact, tax monies are to be used to create educational opportunities, greater learning potential and all of the related issues, it seems that this case belies the need for greater funding.

      And if you can show me a case of “Fundamentalists zealots use kids to promote anti-abortion or guns everywhere” from a public school, I will be most impressed.Report

      • Avatar Marchmaine says:

        “And if you can show me a case of “Fundamentalists zealots use kids to promote anti-abortion or guns everywhere” from a public school, I will be most impressed.”

        Me too… I was curious enough to google “public school closed for pro-life protest”

        All I got was the recent mini-protest following the guns protest

        Gillespie got the idea from his history teacher, Julianne Benzel.

        Benzel was put on paid administrative leave after she suggested the school might have a double standard for what protests [in this case, the Gun protests] are acceptable.

        Which just goes to show that no good weapon will go unused (no schools were closed, but some students walked out).

        The other hit was a local news org that was slightly aghast that a private Catholic school took its students to protest an abortion clinic in Reading, PA.

        After that its mostly just unsympathetic stories of pro-life folks making the world difficult for Planned Parenthood… but I certainly wasn’t having to sort through outrage stories of those darned schools supporting Pro-Life causes.Report

      • Kind of speaks to the sense of proprietariness on the part of many on the left towards public schools. That because they staff it, it institutionally belongs to them in the same way that a private group “belongs” to the right. But the comparison really does break down.

        I take Kazzy’s previous point (as well as A Teacher’s) that we can’t completely avoid politics, but we also can’t think of it as the province of the teachers (or students, for that matter) the same way we might a private group (or private school).Report

        • Avatar Aaron David says:

          I think you put your finger on it @will-truman In the conversation below, it is never asked “who is privileged” or “what is racist”, rather it is an authoritarian take on what is believed and accepted. Assumed is one side being right in that equation.Report

          • Avatar A Teacher says:

            Aaron David: I think you put your finger on it @Will Truman In the conversation below, it is never asked “who is privileged” or “what is racist”, rather it is an authoritarian take on what is believed and accepted. Assumed is one side being right in that equation.

            This has been eating at me for a few days now. I know the post is a bit older in internet years so perhaps the conversation with it is mostly forgotten now.

            However, I’m unsure where the accusation of “Authoritarian” is leveled. I’ll assume it’s towards me with the suggestion that there is a definite privilege and that it’s not really a debatable. What I don’t understand is if the same accusation would be fired off should I say that a circle is defined as a collection of points equal distant from a center point, or if personification is the use of human-like qualities applied to an inanimate object, generally to evoke a particular response from the reader.

            There is room for a robust debate how privilege effects individuals, what options are available to address it, or even if we should address it. These are things I certainly claim no authority to have a single right answer. Likewise I cannot say conclusively what an author’s intent while using personification may be. Does she want me to sympathize with the inanimate object as though it were human? Does she want to evoke a more vivid image? But on the surface the term it self is nothing more than a definition.

            I understand how casual conversation of privilege can come off as something debatable. Someone says “you’re privileged” and the response can often be “my life isn’t easy; no I’m not”. What really turned me on this was the realization that the definition of privilege allows for someone to be privileged in some aspects of their personal identity but not in others. Rare is the person who is privileged in all ways. But that requires us to move past debating the definition and into discussing how it applies to us a individuals.Report

            • Rare is the person who is privileged in all ways. But that requires us to move past debating the definition and into discussing how it applies to us a individuals.

              More of that, less trying to just jam complex human beings into hashtagged catagories.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I try to use privilege as a noun not an adjective. You can have privilege or not. And you can have it in one context and not another.

                In the vast majorty of situations, I have a ton of privilege (white, male, straight, cis, raised Catholic, educated, middle/upper-class upbringing, coastal). At my place of work (which doubles as my elder son’s school), I have less: I’m the poor single dad amongst .01%-ers. In middle school intramural gym, as the only white kid routinely picked last despite being only like 5th worst, I lost some as well. Of course, the consequences of having privilege or not also vary.

                Who is more privileged: a black man or a white woman? That feels like a fruitless exercise. Both have some privilege and depending on the context, may have more or less.Report

              • One thing about privilege when used in this context is if we aren’t careful, the term itself just becomes another stereotype it was coined to address in the first place. Things like wealth, social standing, race that are obvious to all are the surface of people. Family dynamics, upbringing, quality of education, environment they grew up, things like that are much harder to know. Beyond that their are personal issues, mental health, secrets, things no one knows. I think its a worthy conversation and important topic, but in daily application I personally try to the best of my ability to still take people one at time and try not to categorize anyone as best I can. We all have biases and prejudices, respect in how we treat people is the filter that keeps those in check.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Andrew Donaldson: I think its a worthy conversation and important topic, but in daily application I personally try to the best of my ability to still take people one at time and try not to categorize anyone as best I can. We all have biases and prejudices, respect in how we treat people is the filter that keeps those in check.

                Where it really leaps out to me in daily application is when there’s the comment “What’s the problem you just do X,” or “How hard can it be to do Y?”

                Often people can’t tell what’s happening behind those scenes to make X or Y difficult or even impossible. That can range from being frequently followed by store security while shopping to not being able to latch the bathroom stall door because the knob is hard to grip unless you are fully able bodied. It can also be the cost prohibition from doing a weekly dinner out with the rest of the office staff because they all are part of a double income family; you have 4 kids.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                “I think its a worthy conversation and important topic, but in daily application I personally try to the best of my ability to still take people one at time and try not to categorize anyone as best I can.”

                Agreed. The concept of privilege is not meant to be used as a cudgel though it often is. One’s privilege or lackthereof is just one piece of their puzzle and the size and impactfulness will really vary. I aim to use privilege to gain insights into how lived experiences vary and how assuming universality… especially when coming from a position of greater privilege… is really problematic.

                One example… I remember talking with some female friends about our nights out in NYC. They were talking about how annoying it was to try to get cabs at the end of the night and the costs involved (this was pre-Uber and when we were all early-20s and broke). “Just take the subway!” “Yea, no.” “Why?” “It isn’t safe.” “It’s totally safe. I take it at all hours.” “Yea, you can. You’re a man.” “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh….”

                That was an “A-ha” moment for me. Not just in learning about some risks and dangers that are somewhat specific to women… but in recognizing that my lived experience was very different than theirs because of our gender. So it was, quite literally, ignorant of me to suggest taking the subway so casually. And, thankfully, I had people close enough to me and honest enough to make that known. Now, I know better. I obviously still possess male privilege with regards to traveling on public transportation late at night but at least I know I have that so when thinking about traveling late at night, I can access a perspective other than my own and account for that.

                Ideally, that is how these talks would go. Unfortunately, they rarely do.Report

              • One thing, and this isn’t just privilege it can apply to many things, is we all talk about finding common ground, ect. but often that involves biting your tongue through a few things in order to get to that level of the conversation. If we fly off into warrior mode at the first offensive thing the assumptions start and communication stops. If you can bear a minor slight, or two, you might find a decent person that wasn’t meaning offense and then you can get to real issues.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Agreed. Respond to act, not actor. Assume positive intent. Educate… no blame or shame.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Of course you think that.

              You’re privileged.

              (That’s how we use the term, right? It’s an “You lose the argument” button, right?)Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Jaybird: Of course you think that.

                You’re privileged.

                (That’s how we use the term, right? It’s an “You lose the argument” button, right?)

                If that’s how it’s being used, then it is not being used very well.

                The point of talking about privilege is to actually bridge gaps and help establish our differences as well as recognize where someone might need help navigating a particular space that someone else might not.

                I say “Let’s have our HS Group Reunion at this club”, and I may miss that one of my friends is a recovering alcoholic. Electing to go to a club that focuses on micro-brews would be putting him at a disadvantage and make it harder for him to feel safe participating. That is me showing my privilege.

                He could react by saying “Check your privilege” and then storming off. That doesn’t really help much, but I guess it’s an option. Better is for me to understand this situation and work to a better solution, one that acknowledges that my life is different than his.

                We can’t really argue if these differences exist or not but we certainly and and should debate the level of impact they have on people and how we can address those impacts.

                Personally? I believe that if we see the term being used to shut down conversation with some kind of “I win Button” (like one might use Godwin’s Law), then it’s worth asking WHY that is being used in that manner. Is it frustration? Is it Trolling? Is it misunderstanding of privilege?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, it seems the privilege is many things, perhaps even many multiple things. And it morphs and shifts.

                Is it something that I have but other people don’t have and I *SHOULDN’T* have?

                Is it something that I have but other people don’t have and they should have it?

                Is it something that I should want my children to have bucketloads of, as much as I can possibly give them?

                Is it something that I should fight for there to be less of in society?

                Sometimes it’s one thing, sometimes it’s the other. It morphs and changes depending on what we’re arguing.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                I think this is where I bring up Terry Pratchett’s take on it (which I think pre-dates its current popular use).

                That is that privilege, broken down to its root words, literally comes out as ‘private law’ and meant the separate application of law that applied to nobles and not to anyone else. Like at a certain point, a noble could kill a serf and it wasn’t considered murder. It was his privilege to do as he chose with the lives of the lower classes in his domain.

                Now, the usage of the word has evolved somewhat and even changed in some contexts to the point of meaning an honor or a pleasure, but I think the way it is used in a political context is closer to the original meaning: private law. Law that is applied differently to particular groups of people because of their perceived place in society, usually due to the circumstances of their births.

                So, if that’s the case (and I’m just an engineer, not a social scientist, so I could be entirely wrong here), I think the answer to your questions comes down to: do you think some people should be more equal than others?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                And that’s how it gets used in practice, does it?

                For what it’s worth, when we mean what you say in that comment when we talk about privilege, privilege strikes me as a bad thing. (Strikes me as applying to police but not regular non-police citizens, for example.)

                But it gets used a lot of other ways. Depending.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                Sometimes it means that, and sometimes it means stuff that not everybody has but should have (like confidence that their neighbors won’t call the cops when they’re trying to enter their own house).

                It’s sometimes useful to conflate the two things, and it sometimes isn’t.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Any term that can be used against the Privileged rather than by the Privileged will soon find itself to be considered to be unfashionable.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                In and of itself, “privilege” can’t really do much to the privileged, which may go some way to explaining why it remains fashionable.

                It’s a useful idea in some contexts, but it tends to transform questions about social justice into matters of private introspection when it gets out of hand.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                bookdragon:

                Now, the usage of the word has evolved somewhat and even changed in some contexts to the point of meaningan honor or a pleasure, but I think the way it is used in a political context is closer to the original meaning: private law.Law that is applied differently to particular groups of people because of their perceived place in society, usually due to the circumstances of their births.

                I’m afraid that’s not how it is used now by social scientists.

                The intention has nothing to do with laws, regulations or even attempts to mandate social norms to people.

                Privilege is simply advantages based upon identity.

                If you are tall, you have an easier time reaching things on the top shelf than someone who is short. In regards to “getting to the top shelf” you have privilege.

                If you are gay, then you have a harder time finding a mate than someone who is straight simply by the numbers: the majority of people are straight. In this case someone who is straight has privilege.

                In a sense there is an echo of the “I have privileges you don’t” lingers in the form of “I have the privilege to not think about my identity and you don’t.” I can’t say for certain but I have a feeling that is probably the root of the common modern usage.

                As to “more equal than others” sounds like it’s taking what is a rather dry application of a term and trying to morph it into a debate about “fixing” privilege though some kind of codification and law. That’s not what it really is about.

                As I’ve said elsewhere: Most of the purpose of talking about privilege is to create awareness, understanding, and sympathy.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Most of the purpose of talking about privilege is to create awareness, understanding, and sympathy.

                Now you’re gaslighting us.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @jaybird That is a serious accusation of doing harm to someone that I don’t think applies here. I mean, I get what you were going for in the argument, being cheeky about a term that gets thrown around …

                BUT ALSO as a victim of actual gaslighting for most of my childhood, stretching out at times into my adulthood (you remember that’s what was going on a lot of times I’d hang up the phone with my abuser in tears, right?) and as your wife who knows you know this, that was a really obnoxious thing to say.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’ll avoid using that one in the future.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Jaybird: Most of the purpose of talking about privilege is to create awareness, understanding, and sympathy.

                Now you’re gaslighting us.

                I think you might not be wrong but that wasn’t my intention.

                Most of my most recent reflection on privilege has been on things I cannot change, in fact no one can change, and there can be no real way to champion changes.

                If your accusation that I’m being disinegnouus is based on the fact that some conversations about privilege can be about trying to provide better access, more equity, and more opportunity, then you are right.

                I apologize for the confusion.

                In my common experience I spend way more energy just framing what privilege is and why it’s not a bad thing than I do even thinking about possible solutions.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, we’ve discussed “privilege” multiple times here before.

                If you’re a fan of reading old posts and old comment threads (like I am), you’ll enjoy this, this, this, or (perhaps especially) this. (I was kind of proud of this one.)

                I’m down with arguments that everybody is using a term incorrectly.

                But there is a point at which where when everybody else uses a term one way and you’re the person using it differently, you’re the one not using it the way that everybody else is.Report

              • But there is a point at which where when everybody else uses a term one way and you’re the person using it differently, you’re the one not using it the way that everybody else is.

                To Jaybirds point it reminded me of something when I was doing the old “teach the teacher” training stuff: If a discussion devolves into debating what the terminology means no one is learning the lesson.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Jaybird:
                But there is a point at which where when everybody else uses a term one way and you’re the person using it differently, you’re the one not using it the way that everybody else is.

                So I’ll admit that there are people who misuse it, that’s a problem.

                But looking at my comments here, and Kazzy’s and others, I’m not convinced that my application of term is out of alignment. I know that social activists are coalescing around a more strict definition so we can get past debating what it is and get more interest on being aware of it. And with awareness helping create a more equitable and accessible society.

                Maybe I’m not being as clear as I could. Perhaps I’m leaning too much onto things that cannot be changed only accepted as differences and that is skewing my apparent understanding of the term.

                And maybe those of use who are trying to use the word as a tool in conversations for positive social change are the minority and we are swimming upstream against those misusing it either out of ignorance or out of ill intentions.

                At the end of the day: I have easier access to some things that other people thanks to my personal identity traits. I should be aware of this and do what I can to help making things more accessible when possible.

                I really fail to see what’s “Political” about that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, I’ll go back and quote Freddie again:

                Understand: it didn’t even take one generation. Social capital reasserted itself. Privilege did what it does. At the very moments when my life was most broken, the vast advantages of being born white and male, to educated and caring parents, who read to me and told me I was good, who connected behavior to consequences and advised me to live life consciously– all these realities quietly worked in my favor.

                According to this kind of privilege, it seems to be a mix of stuff that you just are as well as Social Capital that you are given.

                I’ll go back and remember this (insane) article back from 2015. I’ll quote my favorite paragraph from it again:

                ‘I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally,’ quips Swift.

                Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s The Perils of “Privilege” does some interesting exploration of how “privilege” (as opposed to privilege) has evolved. (The WaPo’s review of the book was even linked in this post here.)

                I have easier access to some things that other people thanks to my personal identity traits. I should be aware of this and do what I can to help making things more accessible when possible.

                If you find that your choices are resulting in things becoming less accessible rather than more accessible, then what?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                @jaybird

                Do you…

                1.) Not think privilege is a thing?
                2.) Not think privilege is a problem?
                3.) Not understand privilege?
                4.) Get frustrated with what feels like the definition of privilege being a moving target in part to allow it to serve as a useful tool for winning arguments?
                5.) Some combination of the above?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                When we’re talking about stuff like how “society” (or “police”) operate with White Males as if we live in a high-trust, high-collaboration society but operates with Black Males as if we live in a low-trust, low-collaboration society, I see problems that we, as a society, ought to address. When we’re talking about stuff like how high SES parents provide their children with Social Capital, I see something that we, as a society, ought to cultivate a hell of a lot more of.

                When I see a discussion of privilege, I tend to want to ask “which kind of privilege are we talking about” so we can talk about that kind of privilege and then when the answer comes back “oh, there’s only one kind of privilege”, I find myself feeling like I am being lied to. Transparently lied to.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I agree fully that privilege is neither one kind of thing nor that all forms of privilege ought to be responded to in a similar manner.Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                I’m far from convinced that “everyone else” uses the term that way.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                pillsy: I’m far from convinced that “everyone else” uses the term that way.

                What way is who using what?

                I’m honestly, at this point, lost….Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                I’m far from convinced that “everyone else” (aside from participants in this conversation) is using the word “privilege” as a weapon to win arguments, which seems to be @jaybird ‘s implication, based on linking to this.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                After thoughtful consideration, I am now in agreement that there is in fact, Someone Wrong On The Internet.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Just so many of them…

                On an unrelated note, love the bowler!Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                I may be ordinary, but am still a gentleman.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Allow me to retract and rephrase:

                “Enough people to make the question of whether we’re in the motte or in the bailey at any given moment an appropriate one.”Report

              • Avatar pillsy says:

                Sometimes the seems to happen.

                Sometimes people dig in and decide that they absolutely cannot be privileged for whatever reason and it becomes a big fight.

                Sometimes people acknowledge their privilege and then become really guilty about it for some reason.[1]

                I think it’s a useful concept (or maybe model). When I first came across it I thought it was helpful and had considerable explanatory power (and still do), but it is, like most such things, limited.

                [1] It’s common enough that I’m not going to deny it happens, but it still sort of mystifies me.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Privilege is simply advantages based upon the identity society assigns to a person.

                FTFYReport

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @oscar-gordon It’s… not quite that simple. In that there is a set of disadvantages to being assigned identities that are really off from one’s own as well. If one chooses to use the language of privilege, there is a particular privilege that comes from “being assigned an identity by society that is consonant with the identity one recognizes for oneself.”

                A closeted bisexual person, for example, does have advantages based on the societal assumption that they are straight (or even gay!), rather than bisexual; but they also have real disadvantages because of that situation, disadvantages that tend to show up in terms of mental health and economics.

                I’m not sure there’s much point to trying to discuss the nuances of privilege-talk in the midst of an audience that is mostly hostile to it … which is part of the reason I don’t speak in those terms that often myself…

                But for any “passing” privilege, there is usually a complementary disadvantage, because of the amount of cognitive dissonance involved with being seen as starkly different on some axis than one sees oneself (not necessarily at all equal in weight, could be better or worse depending on the axis and the individual situation).

                Without the social justice language (which I prefer, but understand why others object to it), this isn’t really a new concept, of course – Nella Larsen communicates it powerfully in her 1929 novel _Passing_, which I would recommend to anyone as a literary work, regardless of their opinions on the subject.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I remember seeing a speaker (at a workshop/conference for educators) that asked how much of themselves our students must check at the door in order to exist in school. I found it a helpful way to think about this very concept because pretty much all of us have some venues in which we check some aspect of ourselves at the door. So it makes that idea relatable and accessible.

                Even for me… at the school I was at at the time, I had to check ALOT of myself at the door, though primarily from a personality perspective. I mean, we had a dress code I abhorred on both aesthetic/comfort grounds and principle. I turned my music down as I approached the school because rap and hip-hop were snided about. I learned which few people I could talk basketball with and who I had to pretend to like lacrosse around (and to NEVER call lacrosse a “rich white sport”). Hell, even on off-days I learned not to wear my hat backwards after getting pulled over on the way in and being told by a colleague that of course it happened because I was dressed “like a punk”.

                Now, I was also fortunate insofar as I could put on my khakis and button down shirt and turn down my music and no one was any the wiser about who I really was. But it also meant I wasn’t known… wasn’t able to be known and accepted as myself… within my community. And as a result, I was much less happy there than any other place of employment where I could be much more “me”.

                I can only imagine the strain it takes on folks who have to check much more or larger parts of themselves more frequently.Report

              • This planet you speak of, where hiphop isn’t cool, basketball is unknown because everyone’s playing polo and lacrosse, and a colleague says you look like a punk: is it in this solar system, or another? (in case it’s not clear, I’m mildly joking because rich people don’t act like that outside of books. Maybe you were dealing with a bunch of middlebrows.)

                And none of that is privilege.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                It was a particular slice of the world that indeed feels more like people playing at a version of reality that might have once existed rather than reality itself. But it nonetheless was as described.

                And you’ll note I never mentioned privilege. I spoke of the degree to which I had to check myself at the door and the toll that took.

                ETA: It is also interesting you assumed I was speaking of rich folks.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                @maribou

                Fair point, but this conversation struck me as looking more at the external/passing privilege. A black person who grew up among WASPs doesn’t get to enjoy the privilege of the WASP set just because they identify with them. Hence the privileges that society extends are based upon the identity that society, or rather, the subset of society extending the privilege, perceives a person to have, not necessarily the identity they actually have.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                *shrugs* It didn’t strike me that way. A number of the things being discussed will affect students negatively irrespective of whether the teacher realizes (or the other students realize) that they are among the people affected.

                They’ll be *safer* if people don’t realize that, physically, but there is a deep effect on people who are treated as “us” but identify as “them” if they have to listen to “us” speculate about how “they” are all the time… I mean, everyone is in that situation occasionally, but people who walk through life like that are often seriously harmed by it.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                @bookdragon
                And that concept of a private law applying only to a certain segment of society, is about the nut of how it is most commonly used.

                Except in America, the privileged are generally unaware of how the system of laws and norms are written for us, and not others.
                For most of white middle class America, our experiences with the law and state are assumed to be universal, the way everyone experiences them.

                “Check your privilege” can be an insincere argument stopper, but sometimes can be a way of reminding us that not everyone sees and experiences the world the way we do.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Well, it seems the privilege is many things, perhaps even many multiple things. And it morphs and shifts.

                Not really…. But I’ll try to answer your questions about it.

                Is it something that I have but other people don’t have and I *SHOULDN’T* have?

                You can’t control that you have privilege. It is determined by your personal identity. And because you can have privilege in some areas and not others, its not a thing you can really say you “shouldn’t have”. It’s a trait like Red Hair or Identifying as Male.

                Is it something that I have but other people don’t have and they should have it?

                Again, you’re using the word “should”. That’s like saying “People shouldn’t be tall” or “people should be innately athletic”

                Is it something that I should want my children to have bucketloads of, as much as I can possibly give them?

                You cannot really give privilege directly. It’s part of a person’s identity. Again, you really don’t get to pick what your personal privilege is. It is a matter of identity.

                If you are only attracted to people who are exactly 5’9″ tall, then you will have a harder time of finding a mate you are attracted to than someone who is open to heights between 4′ and 6′. That means that someone who is attracted to the wider range has privilege in dating.

                Is it something that I should fight for there to be less of in society?

                You can’t because you can’t award or withdraw privilege directly. The best you can do is be aware of it and work towards a society where it is not as much of a factor.

                In an ideal world everyone enjoys equal opportunity and access. But that’s just not really plausible. Instead, and as an interim step, we can work towards being aware of when we have privilege in some areas and be sensitive who don’t share that easier access that we enjoy.

                Sometimes it’s one thing, sometimes it’s the other. It morphs and changes depending on what we’re arguing.

                Not really. It has a definition that can be commonly applied.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                But this is not how the term gets used in discussions about privilege.

                It refers to many things and not only the thing that you’re talking about here.

                Do you at least acknowledge that there are a lot of people using the word incorrectly and they’re surrounded by people who have no idea that they’re using the word incorrectly (or worse, think that this use of the word is the actual correct usage of it)?

                I mean, without getting into prescriptivism privilege among the educated.Report

            • Avatar Aaron David says:

              Well, first of all @a-teacher we keep the threads open for a month just for cases like this, where we do need to go deeper into a topic that the innertubes generally allow. So all good there.

              As far as authoritarian goes, in that case, I was referring to you specifically, in your role as a teacher. In that role (and while I am not a teacher, I have taught in both classroom and professional settings) the designated teacher is authoritarian. Period. They set the tone, timing and timbre of the conversations in the classroom. And especially with younger students, they set what is allowed both in action and thought. They define the boundaries of the class.

              By proscribing certain actions as racist or privileged and not others as being of the same category, are you letting students think critically about the concepts of racism and privilege, or are you bracketing the opinions, saying to the effect that only the things that you believe fit these categories are acceptable? Are you forcing the student outliers to keep their opinions to themselves? For, as that authoritarian presence in the classroom, you bracket the conversation.

              As far as privilege goes, I do not believe in collective punishment and thus see it as a, in general, useless and in some cases a dangerous concept. As an example, look no further than the Fresno state professor. As a woman of color, we would expect that she has no privilege but as a tenured professor she is at the pinnacle of that concept. Thus it shifts back and forth between the two poles of the concept, proving that the very concept is strictly one of perception, aesthetics.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          “I take Kazzy’s previous point (as well as A Teacher’s) that we can’t completely avoid politics, but we also can’t think of it as the province of the teachers (or students, for that matter) the same way we might a private group (or private school).”

          I actually think there are a few different things that are being lumped under the umbrella of “politics”.

          Schools NEED to discuss “politics” insofar as they ought to engage students in conversations about what is happening in the political world around them. We’d be shocked if high school students didn’t have a single conversation with their classmates and teachers about the 2016 election or events in Syria… though you want these conversations constrained to the appropriate venue. Math class probably isn’t the right place. History is probably a good spot. Home room or other spaces aimed at the more “holistic” areas is probably best.

          Teachers should limit their own politicking and make very clear when they are engaged in such.

          Teachers and schools should NEVER require student politicking and certainly not for any specific cause or agenda. The most I could see a school doing in some area is having students pick a topic of interest or passion and exploring how they WOULD pursue it but stop short of actually requiring it.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            And when I say that schools to some extent have to be political, I don’t necessarily mean they have to engage in the politics of the day. What I mean is that we *want* schools to instill values in children. Much (most?) of the time this is non-controversial because we largely agree on what those values are: kindness, respect, community, certain democratic principles, etc.

            Where things get hairier is when we wade into areas where we don’t largely agree… which are sometimes areas independent of those and sometimes specific subareas of them.

            Should schools come down harder on a student that scrawls the N-word across a Black student’s locker than we would on a student who scrawls “Fatso” on a heavier student’s locker? No matter *what* the decision is the school is taken a stance on what those words mean and that is inherently political in one way or another. Especially because most folks will try to wedge that into the “politics of the day” (“Hate speech!” “Snowflakes!”) even if those particular angles aren’t being considered when the school is coming to a decision.Report

            • I think that’s the right way to look at it, Kazzy.Report

            • Avatar A Teacher says:

              Kazzy: And when I say that schools to some extent have to be political, I don’t necessarily mean they have to engage in the politics of the day.What I mean is that we *want* schools to instill values in children.Much (most?) of the time this is non-controversial because we largely agree on what those values are: kindness, respect, community, certain democratic principles, etc.

              Where things get hairier is when we wade into areas where we don’t largely agree… which are sometimes areas independent of those and sometimes specific subareas of them.

              Indeed. One of my take-aways from this discussion is that the absolute of “Teachers, as agents of the state, should not engage in political advocacy, unless that advocacy is something I agree with.”

              For many students and families, the use of a transgender student’s preferred name of Thomas rather than the given name on the class roster of Rachel is an act of political advocacy. The roster says Rachel. Who am I to force other kids to call them Thomas?

              In hindsight it is easy to be supportive of the political advocacy of Barbara Henry. Perhaps it is different because the law was ultimately on her side, though many court challenges and the refusal of other teachers to take on that teaching load, I am certain, made it appear to be a political stance.Report

    • Avatar SDN says:

      “No one bats an eye or uses caution when right-wing Fundamentalists zealots use kids to promote anti-abortion or guns everywhere.”

      That wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that those “zealots” are private citizens on private time with their own personal kids, would it?

      Because taking other people’s kids who are required to be in your custody on pain of arrest for truancy on time paid for by taxpayers (ALSO at gunpoint) is totally identical. /sarc

      (censored — SDN, direct attacks are not allowed here, so I’ve removed this entire last paragraph, which was completely out of line with our efforts to maintain a civil, respectful environment among our commenters on a personal basis, regardless of how strongly we may disagree about each other’s opinions or affiliations. Since you’re new (I think), you get another shot at being civil and being allowed to comment here, and I’ll let the rest of your comment stand. Next time you pull anything like the censored paragraph out to use on another commenter, you’ll be either suspended or banned, depending. – maribou)Report

    • No one bats an eye or uses caution when right-wing Fundamentalists zealots use kids to promote anti-abortion or guns everywhere.

      Speaking for myself, I would do more than just bat an eye if a school tried to corral its students to perform anti-abortion activism or pro-gun activism the way that the OP’s school tried to when it came to school funding policy.Report

  9. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    While I share the author’s concern about schools directing student expression, in the final tally I found the piece reassuring. The students appear to be quite willing to think for themselves and ask challenging questions when the chance is offered, though they presumably have been in schools like this one for most of their lives. This is my perspective as a parent. As they become teenagers, they can both conform outwardly to school expectations, but talk with their friends privately about how phony the rules and the teachers can be. I think the children are quite aware of what they’re going through.Report

    • I just saw this.

      Yes, I agree. What I find really troubling is how many students already know it’s more dangerous to complain than comply.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        @michele-kerr

        Been thinking about this for a couple days and I’m pretty sure the reason why I don’t find it troubling in any kind of novel way is that I’ve *always* thought of school as a place where “students already know it’s more dangerous to complain than comply” about almost everything, not just politics. I mean, I learned that lesson about a week into first grade, as far as school went, when I wasn’t finished coloring something and so didn’t want to stop till I was done…. and was shamed in front of the whole class.

        (Granted I was probably more primed to learn that lesson than some, thanks to my dad …. but I didn’t feel that way about my kindergarten (privately run) or about the various daycares I’d been to by then, nor did I feel it about every single teacher I had – but where it wasn’t the case, they were fairly obviously going against a mainstream consensus that they should. Which sometimes had consequences for them.)

        On some level, schools *teach* kids to comply above and beyond teaching them anything else. Not every school, not every teacher, but the structure is such that that’s kind of the starting point, at least from my point of view. That structure is part of why I’ve always known I couldn’t be a teacher, despite aptitudes and leanings that have suggested otherwise…Report

        • I disagree. Until recently, it wasn’t dangerous. School punishment wasn’t dangerous. It often was a point of pride to receive.

          Today, an exemplary student can be expelled for the wrong opinions, or a schools interpretation of that opinion can be entered into permanent records that are far more final than they used to be.

          If you think it’s the same as it used to be, you have no idea what it’s like now.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Can you cite any evidence of what you claim “it’s like now”?Report

          • Avatar Maribou says:

            @michele-kerr

            I was terrified of my first-grade teacher. Not at all proud of being punished. F’ing terrified. I saw her shove and physically shake kids, not too much later, which confirmed it. It shut me down in her classroom. It sent me a message that school was (another) place where you said what people wanted you to say, and did what they wanted you to do, or something bad would happen to you. (For a lot of kids, not just me, getting punished at school wasn’t just a matter of getting expelled, or having a mark on our permanent records, it was an excuse for physical or other kinds of abuse at home. Literally, physically, dangerous in some cases, and very miserable in others. In some cases, that was known-but-denied by teachers who would use it against us. “Do you REALLY want me to call your PARENTS about this???” Anyone with a brain must have seen how much more terrified certain kids were from that than others; and yet these folks never stopped using that threat.)

            So far it seems that if you respond to someone disagreeing with you in the comments, you are likely to disallow not just their perspective on what you said, but also their own experiences of the world.

            I am frustrated by that. Kazzy’s experiences, my experiences, are real experiences that we really had. Them not fitting your paradigm is one thing – and it may mean that you disagree with our interpretations as being generally valid – but could you quit asserting that we don’t know what the hell we’re talking about based on *your* assumptions about what we actually experienced?Report

            • Avatar Maribou says:

              Not to turn this into a litany of f’d up teachers – but just to bring up one other notable experience that shaped my experience of school and what the rules actually were –

              When I was in 9th grade, my 9th grade math teacher had been the principal of the school, a couple of principals ago. There was a “rumour” going around that he threw an oversized stapler (the big heavy office kind) at a kid’s head in a fit of temper, put them in the hospital, and that his “punishment” for that was to be demoted to math teacher. I was a very curious kid, despite my fears, and I wanted to know what I was dealing with in the face of that sort of thing. It seemed over the top, but also he was a terrifying man at times, bellowing at kids, going off on them, calling them names if they got a problem wrong. Which I would’ve thought would’ve resulted in someone intervening in our classroom? But somehow never did.

              I asked my mom about it (she had taught in that school part-time a few years before) and she said she’d heard the same thing from a colleague there, but she didn’t know if it was true or not. “Surely it isn’t true! He was always so nice to me!!” Sure mom, and also dad isn’t going to keep being terrible and really we just need to treat him better. That made me more suspicious, not less.

              Anyway, I’d cultivated the kind of relationship with him where he *thought* I was a good kid, and *thought* I was a teacher’s pet of his**. So, I figured I could find out what happened. I drew the story out of him, implying heavily that I felt sympathy for him and he must have been misunderstood. He told me all about it – from his own point of view, mostly about how awful the kid was and how unjust it was that he was demoted, of course – and the so-called rumor was literally what happened. Lost his temper at a smart mouth kid, threw a giant stapler at the kid for making him angry (he made sure to make the size of the stapler clear in the story, as I widened my eyes in faux-amazement), put the kid in hospital, he got demoted to math teacher where (this part he didn’t say, but I saw first-hand, on a weekly, sometimes daily basis) he verbally bullied kids who weren’t very good at math. Called them stupid, idiot, and (sarcastically) genius. At volume. And no one intervened. I found this out later, so maybe it’s not true, but what I was told (speaking of political) is that he had an in with someone fairly high up in the Dept. of Ed. for our province, and thus was more or less able to do whatever the hell he wanted without anyone standing up to him. Some object lessons had been learned, and now no one would do anything about it, or if they were trying behind the scenes, their efforts didn’t work.

              I wasn’t saying things aren’t as bad now as you make them out to be, @michele-kerr. I’m saying in plenty of places they were really awful, and yes, literally *dangerous*, already. And that the message I was given (and was no doubt unusually receptive to) is that the way to avoid those dangers was to comply.

              ** This was mostly useful because it let me a) get him to keep letting me work math homework well in advance of the class while taking tests with the class, a compromise my (very excellent) 8th grade teacher had had to work really hard to get him to accept in the first place, and b) meant i was one of a few kids who could distract him into spending time talking about cars for most of the class period, not something I would normally have done, but it raised my always-tenuous social status with the other kids AND kept him from being abusive toward them, something I really wanted to avoid. I did a lot of unofficial math tutoring that year… and most of the kids in my class didn’t need that much teaching to pass the class anyway, because our 8th grade teacher had, as mentioned, been really excellent.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                PS @michele-kerr I’m not trying to belabor with you of examples of dangerous school punishments (official or not; personally, I was mostly talking about non-official but very effective and, as far as I can tell from comparing experiences with friends, quite common abuses of power for the time period – I have no idea how common they are now), or point out the obvious to a teacher that I would expect to be familiar with said obvious, but since you literally said you disagreed that school punishments used to be dangerous, I’m not sure you do know about these things.

                I won’t bother to cite all the other contexts in which school punishments have been dangerous, but there are plenty, some far more serious and more intensely systematic than the barrel of mostly at least slightly rotten apples I was faced with. (Again, there were some fabulously perfect, crisp, ripe, wonderful apples in that barrel, as well as some apples that had a bruise or two here or there but were basically sound. Not every teacher was horrible. Not even half of them were. But the system I grew up in reinforced the horrible ones and was hard on the good ones.)

                How could you be a teacher, and as self-aware and as critical of the education system as you are, and *not* be aware of these abuses of power going on in the past? I admit I did make the assumption that you would be, which is why I didn’t elaborate in my first comment in this subthread.Report

          • Avatar A Teacher says:

            Michele Kerr:

            Today, an exemplary student can be expelled for the wrong opinions, or a schools interpretation of that opinion can be entered into permanent records that are far more final than they used to be.

            With all due respect, that doesn’t happen where I am, nor has it happened in any case where these wrong opinions could not be better described as racist, anti-Semitic, sexist or otherwise disparaging of others.

            In other words, I know of exactly Zero cases of a student being expelled for preferring DC over Marvel (which we all know is the wrong opinion) or for believing we should cut school budgets as a consequence of lower taxes.

            Can you cite a case of a student who was expelled in the modern era (ie less than 20 years ago) for having this “wrong opinion”?Report

        • Avatar A Teacher says:

          Maribou: @Michele Kerr

          On some level, schools *teach* kids to comply above and beyond teaching them anything else.Not every school, not every teacher, but the structure is such that that’s kind of the starting point, at least from my point of view.That structure is part of why I’ve always known I couldn’t be a teacher, despite aptitudes and leanings that have suggested otherwise…

          You should consider it if you’re up for the modern anti-teacher rhetoric that dominates the media. Granted it seems the tide is turning so perhaps even that will fade. Having a staff with rich experiences and who has compassion for the kids as people is critical to a good school. Don’t discount it completely.Report

          • Avatar Maribou says:

            @a-teacher I found a better, less toxic-to-me way to contribute to young people’s going out into the world. (That and I try to buy all my teacher friends a coffee every so often – regardless of their political beliefs, and despite the fact that they make more money than I do. I appreciate the work that gets done, as much as I worry about the system it’s being done in.)Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Not a single student was able to identify the other point of view. That fact, more than anything, led me to carry on with my non-compliance. After they tried to identify another side to take for a few minutes, I broke in:

    “You’ve only identified students who support the protest and students who don’t care. What about any student who thinks the tax cuts are a good idea?”

    Silence.

    “You mean, like we could demonstrate supporting the budget cuts?”

    “Can you even imagine someone doing that here?”

    No, they could not.

    This gave me goosebumps.

    Thank you.Report

  11. Avatar James K says:

    This is a great post Michele, thank you for posting it.Report

  12. I agree with the others. This is a great post.Report

  13. Hey, thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you liked it. This is an older piece–I wrote it a couple years ago about events that occurred in 2010.But recent events involving the politicization of schools has made it even more relevant, I think, and I’m glad Will thought it worth publishing.Report

  14. Avatar Pinky says:

    Count me in on praising this article too. Interesting and well-written. Also, good for you for your actions depicted in the article.Report

  15. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    It feels like a shame to me that a non-renewal is such a murky thing, based upon so many factors that it’s hard to isolate out a particular cause.

    I’ve worked closely with two teachers in my efforts to coach a mock trial team at a public high school. One was well left of center, the other was politically right of center. But they were friends personally (as I became friends with both) and shared this ethic: their role as teachers was to provide information, encourage the development of knowledge and thinking skills, and transform these young people into adults. Both had spent time thinking about how to neutrally reflect students’ questions about politics and the issues of the day back to them, to present opposing points of view neutrally and fairly.

    I’ve heard both them, when pressed by students, say words to the effect of “I’m not going to tell you what I think about this issue, because it’s important to me that you make up your own mind first, rather than try to please me in my role as an authority figure and an evaluator of your academic work.” And this always struck me as profoundly ethical.

    This ethic, it seems, is not universally held, and that’s a damn shame.Report

    • Avatar Maribou says:

      While I agree with much of this, I do remember that as a high school student I found

      ““I’m not going to tell you what I think about this issue, because it’s important to me that you make up your own mind first, rather than try to please me in my role as an authority figure and an evaluator of your academic work.”

      to be profoundly irritating.

      First of all, I’d often already made up my own mind, insofar as I do that (at that age I was still pretty open-minded :D) … Second of all, as an evaluator of my work, they had (and I knew they had and I knew they knew they had) some cognitive biases just like the rest of us. It seemed unfair that they got to hide theirs while we were expected to put ours out for analysis by them (and usually the rest of the class). I wanted to be able to judge for myself how much they did or didn’t let their politics get in the way of their work. And third of all — it was already pretty obvious to me that even the best teachers had preferences about what they thought a good paper was that even they weren’t always consciously aware of. In speaking about their own opinions, even when their hidden criteria had nothing to do with those opinions *themselves*, their way of speaking, the types of arguments they valued, their idiosyncratic pet peeves, etc etc, would all be clearer (to most people, even if subconsciously) and we’d write papers that were more what they wanted to read. (Different from papers that agreed with them!) So I felt like they were inhibiting our ability to perform the tasks they *actually* were grading us on.

      I’m not sure that was at all fair of me, but it’s how I felt at the time (and even more so in university, in the cases where we had to write papers). These days I just hate grades :D.

      Fortunately or unfortunately, I had my ways of figuring the third part out whether the prof would (as I thought) “be square with me” or not. Mostly by drawing them out on topics that they found less controversial and were thus more willing to air their opinions about. But what I truly appreciated were profs who said, “Yeah, I have an opinion and this is my opinion. But if I weren’t interested in ALL the possible opinions about this, particularly in how you guys think and what you have to say, I wouldn’t be teaching social studies to 9th graders… and if it was something I thought there was truly only one acceptable answer to, I wouldn’t be having you guys argue about it, because I don’t think I could be fair.”Report

      • Avatar A Teacher says:

        Maribou:
        if it was something I thought there was truly only one acceptable answer to, I wouldn’t be having you guys argue about it, because I don’t think I could be fair.”

        This is where I struggle.

        I went to a friend’s wedding this weekend. She is gay. She was a lovely bride. When a student ask what I did with my weekend am I being “political” in an inappropriate way by telling them I went to that wedding?

        When a student says “ew, gross, she’s gay? That’s so wrong” am I being political for calling them on it and saying “that’s not appropriate?”

        There was a day and age where the question “Should girls study science?” was considered an appropriate question and teachers were (and still are) under fire for not doing a better job of supporting girls in science. Would we look back and say “well, those teachers who said girls could do science were being political!” or would we say “those teachers who encouraged girls were doing the right thing!”?

        Who gets to decide when something is too political for a teacher to have not only an opinion but to enforce it as a class expectation?

        Am I being political when I say “This girl is transgender and you will respect her as a person and address her by her preferred identity”?Report

        • Avatar Maribou says:

          @a teacher

          I totally understand why and how that’s a struggle. Part of the reason I’m grateful to be where I am is that I am quite comfortable with it being a private school and the lines where that is and isn’t appropriate being largely drawn in ways I am also comfortable with. (eg dissent is allowed, but disrespectful address is not)
          In large part what we do around these questions (as staff, here, not a professor) is to teach students how to express dissent in either direction without trashing the other people involved, and how to draw lines. (stuff like “if everyone in the department wants to put up a pro-DACA sign and the campus is officially pro-DACA, we’re gonna put up the sign even though we wouldn’t put up a partisan sign no matter how pro-Democrat the campus might be. But HAVING put it up, you have to expect that people will then comment on it… and we might not like what they say and still have to be nice to them as customers. If that isn’t okay, we can take it down. We’re still a library!!”)

          In a public system it’s more complicated, for sure.

          I mean, my mom was literally not allowed to take any science classes in high school, because she was a girl, and 60 years later, she still struggles with mental blocks around anything STEAM-related that really have nothing to do with her capability and everything to do with the messages she’s internalized. But at the time, a teacher who said “this is BS and I’m going to teach any girl that wants taught, and advocate for everyone else to do so,” would probably have been fired.

          So your example really hits home with me.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Often times though, there are other options.

            “Gay marriage is legal.” Factual statement.
            “That is a hurtful/disrespectful/hateful/homophobic thing to say.” Factual statement.
            “What about that do you think is gross? That they’re gay? That I went to the wedding?”

            Which isn’t to say that A Teacher’s response isn’t an acceptable or appropriate one. Just that if for any reason that doesn’t sit well with you, there are other options available.

            When time is available (and I recognize it often isn’t in the course of a school day), I think leading off with, “That’s inappropriate!” stifles conversation in a way that may actually be counterproductive when dealing with teenage brains. Whenever possible, I think trying to probe and challenge their thinking is the preferred route. And, at the right time, you can layer in that message if you feel it needs to be included.Report

            • Avatar A Teacher says:

              Kazzy:, I think leading off with, “That’s inappropriate!” stifles conversation in a way that may actually be counterproductive when dealing with teenage brains.Whenever possible, I think trying to probe and challenge their thinking is the preferred route.And, at the right time, you can layer in that message if you feel it needs to be included.

              I’ve meant to comment to this too and say I agree. I rarely lead with “Dude, that’s not right” unless I know the student enough to know that’s the best way to get their attention. Generally (and it’s taken a bit) when I’m trying to bring students along, especially white males, it’s best to start by looking at where this sexism/ racism/ abilism is coming from and then work towards their inherent sense of justice and fairness.

              Leading with “NO!” does tend to backfire.Report

  16. Avatar A Teacher says:

    I agree with much of the sentiments and I share the shock that a school would go so far as to press students to engage in a specific act of political protest. At the end of the day, everyone in a free democracy should have the choice to opt out of politics.

    I also appreciate the value in holding back on some political issues because students should grow and make their choices about issues on which there is room to politically disagree in a civil fashion. How much to spend on education vs defense has room for some kind of civil disagreement, for example. Should the government use nothing but civil unions to denote marriage vs all the “kinds” of marriage would be another such question.

    But I have a few frustrations as well.

    For the last 20 years we have pushed teachers to be neutral more and more, and at the same time seen a steady and marked drop in critical thinking and a rise of fake news sites. Kids are believing crap that is simply unfounded spin, and the adults they have the most contact with are told “don’t comment, be neutral”. To point out the error in fake news can be declared taking a side, so we stay silent as kids repeat the worst lies peddled on the internet. This is not a small problem because who else will step up and say “no, that’s wrong?”

    Then there’s the issue of when it’s not politics. I have a transgender boy in my class. He wants to pee and he wants to use the boy’s room. When I say “he should be allowed to pee” I have parents furious that I’m taking a side in a political issue and none of THEIR kids should have to deal with my political posturing. What I want is my student to be treated like a human being, and somehow that’s become me taking a side in a political debate. Addressing transphobia shouldn’t be a political issue.

    Addressing privilege shouldn’t be a political issue.

    Addressing systemic racism shouldn’t be a political issue.

    These are things and they need to be dealt with, maturely, civilly. But they cannot be hand waved as “don’t get political.” Or at least I don’t feel it’s fair to my black/ brown/ gay/ trans/ marginalized/ etc kids to do such.

    Lastly, I don’t want to get shot at work. I don’t want my students to get shot in my classroom. I don’t want my children to get shot at school. I don’t want to wonder if I should have sent my 6 year old to school with a bullet proof liner in her backpack. Some issues so directly impact us as educators that I find it profoundly frustrating that when we engage with our students on them, we are told to shut up and teach. I understand that there are lines, and I understand that respect and civility are key. But I find it disturbing that when a kid asks me “Why can’t they do anything about these shootings?” I’m supposed to say “I don’t want to be political.”Report

  17. ” I don’t want to get shot at work. I don’t want my students to get shot in my classroom. I don’t want my children to get shot at school. I don’t want to wonder if I should have sent my 6 year old to school with a bullet proof liner in her backpack. ”

    It’s my impression that most teachers don’t want to get shot.

    But there’s clearly no agreement about the solution. So when a kid says “why can’t they do anything about these shootings?” I’d say “who is ‘they’?” and tell him that, while he thinks that more gun control would address the shootings, other people don’t and there’s no agreement on it.

    “Addressing privilege shouldn’t be a political issue.

    Addressing systemic racism shouldn’t be a political issue.”

    Of course it is. Your definitions of privilege and systemic racism aren’t shared, and even when they are, solutions aren’t. How is that anything but political?

    I have transgender students too, and I don’t care where they pee. It’s not my problem, it’s the administrator’s issue. I hope they resolve it satisfactorily for the student. But yes, saying “you should be allowed to pee in the bathroom you want to” is a political opinion.Report

    • Avatar A Teacher says:

      Michele Kerr:

      Of course it is. Your definitions of privilege and systemic racism aren’t shared, and even when they are, solutions aren’t. How is that anything but political?

      I have transgender students too, and I don’t care where they pee. It’s not my problem, it’s the administrator’s issue. I hope they resolve it satisfactorily for the student. But yes, saying “you should be allowed to pee in the bathroom you want to” is a political opinion.

      First I’ll respectfully disagree. The definition of Privilege is pretty well defined in most social science circles now. About the only people I see arguing against that definition are white and themselves the beneficiaries of most privilege. Casually, it is simply the benefit of not being blocked from access by part of your identity. As an able bodied adult, I’m not blocked from access to a store if it lacks a wheel chair ramp. That is one privilege I have. As a white, I am more likely to get an Air BNB request answered. That has been shown in studies.

      As to the “where to pee”, I think you’re misunderstanding. It’s not a matter of where he wants to. As a transgender boy, he identifies as boy and should be afforded all of the same basic courtesies we show a boy. Which is to say, use the boy’s bathroom to pee.

      What frightens me about your answer, though, as a fellow educator is that the hand wave you’ve made: Of course it’s political.

      Would you have said that 40 years ago when the idea of a girl taking a science class was also a “political” stance? Would you have stood up for a girl who wanted to study physics but the school said “no, that’s a boy’s class”? Or would you defer to others and say “It’s not my place to say a girl should take science”?

      Likewise, would you have sat and deferred comment when asked if those black students sat at the wrong lunch counter? “Segregation? Oh that’s a political thing.”

      What we do now, is what we would have done 50 years ago. Would we take pride in our actions looking back 50 years in the future?Report

      • Maybe there’s a way to split the difference. Maybe the disagreement between A Teacher and Michelle Kerr isn’t as sharp as it seems.

        Maybe the social sciences really do have a consensus about what “privilege” means, but that doesn’t mean it’s not political. At the same time, addressing this “political” issue–and other issues, like transgenderism,* systemic racism, equitable access to education–in a school setting is to me different from using schools to advocate for specific legislative policies.

        Is that a difference of kind or degree? I don’t know. There are probably points where it’s hard to tell the difference. And sometimes there are probably points where the in-school expression of even certain political viewpoints must be curbed or subject to heightened scrutiny. But there’s also a lot that could be done (and for all I know,** maybe actually is being done) to allow for a broader and more viewpoint inclusive engagement.

        *I hope that’s a respectful word. If not, please let me know and I’ll modify my language in the future.

        **I’m not a teacher, so I don’t know.Report

      • Your thinking is identical to the other teachers and administrators at Oceana. What you want, actually implemented, looks like the story I wrote.

        In theory, it sounds great to talk about all these niceties. In practice, enforcing them, demanding that students abide by your values, looks horrible.

        So you’d be right in there with all the other Oceana teachers and you wouldn’t feel bad about it at all. You’d be in that meeting disapproving of my refusal to get those 19 permission slips.

        Which is fine. Just don’t pretend that you approve of my actions, because in the moment, you’d have been firmly on the other side.Report

        • Avatar A Teacher says:

          Michele Kerr: Your thinking is identical to the other teachers and administrators at Oceana. What you want, actually implemented, looks like the story I wrote.

          In theory, it sounds great to talk about all these niceties. In practice, enforcing them, demanding that students abide by your values, looks horrible.

          So you’d be right in there with all the other Oceana teachers and you wouldn’t feel bad about it at all. You’d be in that meeting disapproving of my refusal to get those 19 permission slips.

          Which is fine. Just don’t pretend that you approve of my actions, because in the moment, you’d have been firmly on the other side.

          There is a very very stark line between closing down a school to bus students to advocate on tax policy and standing up for civil and equal rights.

          Please don’t pretend to speak for me when confronted with one or the other.

          I think you were right to push back against the use of kids to advocate on tax policy but you seem to be doubling down on a “political” beliefs which is frightening as a fellow teacher.

          What I read from you here is this: If Maribou’s mother were to ask to take a science class from your school in 1950 you would have said “do as you like: I certainly won’t take a side.”

          And to me, that is both sad and frightening in the modern era.Report

        • @michele-kerr I would ask that you not tell a commenter what they want or tell them “don’t pretend”. We try to assume goodwill on the part of our commenters here, and not engage in rhetorical mind-reading to the contrary, unless they are themselves breaching that assumption, and I read A Teacher as concerned, anxious, argumentative, rather than attacking you, in her comments. She says she’s struggling, so please treat her that way, rather than as an attacker.

          @a teacher I get that you responded defensively because you were being told how you feel and accused of pretending, but please don’t escalate further… I think we’re in everyone take a deep breath territory at the moment.Report

          • I’m surprised you think it was an attack, but I guess the word “pretend” was too inflammatory. I didn’t mean it in that way, and I’m sorry if you were offended. (and if that was offensive, then certainly your “hand wave” was, as is suggesting I’d be fine with wanting women out of science and classrooms to be segregated.)

            My point was simply that anyone who thinks issues like transgender bathrooms and gun rights aren’t political is exactly like the teachers who took a day of instruction to form an SOS on the beach. They didn’t think opposition to the budget cuts was a political issue. They thought it was an obvious case for their students’ well-being and, indeed, their lives. Just as you do.

            “There is a very very stark line between closing down a school to bus students to advocate on tax policy and standing up for civil and equal rights.”

            No, there isn’t. The teachers involved passionately believed that the budget cuts were a matter of life and death–counseling for students (transgender sutdents, even!), opportunity and funding for support for students of color, funding for encouraging students to explore STEM opportunities (girl, too!), suicide prevention, anti-bullying (for gay and transgender students, even!) and so on.

            I’m somewhat surprised you see any difference between your objections and tax cuts to all these great programs.

            And by the way, of *course* those civil and equal rights objectives were political. Congress, the president, and politically appointed judges were required to integrate schools and give women equal rights. I don’t know what else you’d call it.

            They’re all political. If a huge chunk of America disagrees with you and all the research you consider dispositive, then you either live with what America wants, or you seek change to achieve your objectives.Report

            • @michele-kerr Are you conflating me and @A Teacher? I can’t quite tell. (I’m not her, nor was I commenting from a perspective of being “on her side,” but just my own effort at being consistent in what I do as a moderator, biased though I no doubt am.)

              I didn’t say you were attacking, but that you seemed to be responding as if she were an attacker, when you brought in her feelings and told her not to pretend things. (On reread, there may have been a grammar issue there that blurred my meaning, if so, I apologize.) I also told her not to escalate.

              I do think it is somewhat incumbent on writers to be a little more patient with commenters than the other way around (especially to counteract the chilling effect of me directly pouncing on commenters, either cutting their comments or even banning them, when I think they are completely out of line, when with writers I generally give a lot more leeway and confine myself to requests for a long time). But also, directly saying negative stuff about other people’s internal states is a line we ask folks to try not to cross. (A fuzzy, wobbly line, not at all stark.)

              The argument against her position, as you’ve expanded on it here, is perfectly fine (of course). My request was only about not shifting to the other person’s thoughts and feelings, or telling them they were being deceptive/self-deceptive (pretend), which this comment avoids perfectly.Report

            • Avatar A Teacher says:

              Perhaps I am misunderstanding you here, Ms. K.

              So let me recap what I think you are saying:

              a) Schools and school staff must remain neutral on all issues of politics. Their job is to challenge students to think but if something is political, they must not advocate for one side or the other.

              b) Civil rights are political issues.

              Now, I am extrapolating but when those two are put together I am inferring that you are saying:

              c) Teachers should not advocate for civil rights.

              If, and I emphasize “if”, this is the case then I strongly disagree with you. That logic leads to the place I was earlier when I suggested that your views, taken as I had taken them, would lead to the conclusion that 1950!you would have remained silent when a young lady demanded to be admitted to a science class, or asked to be left alone when someone asked your thoughts on blacks sitting at a white only lunch counter.

              As for the stark difference that I see between policy and civil rights, I draw lines between “Things we can disagree on” and “Things we simply must not.” How to spend money? Agree to disagree. How do deal with the unusually high rates of gun violence and gun-based suicide? Agree to disagree. Should gay people have a right to exist or should they be shipped off to “re-education camps so the gay can be prayed away”? No, we don’t agree to disagree there. Just like 50 years ago the Right thing was to do what we could to support the end of segregation. Perhaps we would not have then, but this is now and now we have a chance to do better.

              And I’d like to add this thought:

              A student may forget what you said about your vote on a policy that may or may not have provided extra school counselors to help them deal with suicidal thoughts.

              They will NOT forget your kindness when you sat with them while they cried, unable to tell you that in 24 hours they intended to take their own life.

              They will NOT forget your silence when a class mate told them they were going to hell for being queer. They will not forget your words of “let’s agree to disagree on that.”

              I think you were right to push back against taking the kids to be part of a protest about school budgets.

              I think you are wrong to push back against demanding that students embrace equality and civil rights afforded to all.Report

              • Given how much you are conflating and inferring, I’m a bit hesitant to discuss this further, because I think you will see no distinction.

                “Schools and school staff must remain neutral on all issues of politics.”

                Schools and school staff are government employees. They should not advocate for political outcomes in their status as government employees. That’s entirely different from saying they must be neutral. I see no problem in teachers telling their students their own political views, although increasingly that’s risky in these litigious times. But I see nothing wrong in a teacher identifying as a Democrat or a Republican, and think it’s really wrong when they are attacked for this (ie, a teacher saying she’s a Democrat and being slammed for being a baby killer, or a teacher getting fired for saying he voted for Trump.)

                “Civil rights are political issues.”

                That’s not an opinion, but a simple fact. They must be fought for and won in the political arena.

                “Teachers should not advocate for civil rights.”

                Not in the classroom or school community.

                Now, you have shown in three or four comments a real confusion between “advocating for civil rights” and “ensuring students treat each other civility”. So try and understand, if you can, that no competent teacher would allow one student to tell another he or she was going to hell for any reason whatsoever. It’s so bizarre that I am inferring you use it as a strawhorse. I would likewise find it absurd to see anyone argue that a teacher would stay silent if one student said she was a Christian and another said “your stupid god says all gays should go to hell.”

                That’s not political neutrality. If you don’t understand how to shut down that sort of conversation without resorting to political advocacy, I’m not sure what to tell you.

                “I think you are wrong to push back against demanding that students embrace equality and civil rights afforded to all.”

                This is political activism. I don’t make political demands of my students. No teacher should. And this does not in any way stop me from ensuring that all students are treated fairly and equitably. I find it puzzling that you would be incapable of doing the same.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Michele Kerr:

                “Teachers should not advocate for civil rights.”

                Not in the classroom or school community.

                In other words:

                In 1950 you would have been silent when a girl asked to take a science class.

                At the time it was a “political issue”.

                You suggest this is just a straw man, yet sure seems to be your exact position in a nutshell. Civil rights are political, and political statements in the classroom don’t belong. If a student were to say “blacks are just unfit to vote like whites”, that can be said with civility, but should be shown some kind of respect as a “political point of view”.

                Nothing in my 20 years of teaching suggest the right there is to say “well, that’s your opinion”.

                I’m sorry.Report

              • “At the time it was a “political issue”.”

                Wrong. That would be an educational issue.

                And, by the way, I know of no law ever that banned schools from teaching science to girls. So advocating for it would not be advocating for a law change.

                Also by the way, you now appear to be telling me what *I’d* do. Incorrectly. Please note that I’m unperturbed and uncomplaining.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                For what it’s worth I’ve not complained about you at all. If you think I requested a moderator’s commentary you are mistaken.

                I wish you the best in your pursuits in the classroom. I am going to assume that we simply aren’t expressing ourselves well here because I find your point of view when it comes to the rights of your transgender students to exist and be respected to be as puzzling, and frankly horrifying, as I’m sure you find my inability to “not advocate politics”.

                I won’t stop not only enforcing civility but also advocating acceptance of my students.

                I’ve saved lives by it.Report

              • Avatar Maribou, Moderator says:

                @michele-kerr @a teacher

                To be clear, nobody requested anything. I butted in because neither of you was quite being civil to the other. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect.

                Asking folks to meet our norms for civility isn’t a matter only of what the two people disputing feel about the conversation. It’s also about the conversation as a whole, and maintaining an atmosphere, and a set of expectations, where people can talk to each other without talking past each other.

                I realize this can be hard to accomplish when one or both parties are misrepresenting the other’s inner state, which is part of the reason we ask people not to do that.

                Neither of you has tended toward this in the past, and I doubt you will in the future.Report

  18. Avatar Jimg says:

    “The teachers and administrators at Oceana meant well.”

    No. They didn’t.
    If they did, they would’ve never resorted to the tactics they used.Report

  19. “I wish you the best in your pursuits in the classroom. I am going to assume that we simply aren’t expressing ourselves well here because I find your point of view when it comes to the rights of your transgender students to exist and be respected to be as puzzling, and frankly horrifying, as I’m sure you find my inability to “not advocate politics”.”

    No, I don’t find your inability to “not advocate” horrifying, but pretty typical of a certain type of teacher. I also wish you the best in your pursuits.

    But your inability to realize that I can simultaneously refuse to let any student be humiliated or bullied and likewise refuse to engage in political advocacy is either dishonest or disheartening.

    Have a good one.Report

  20. I’m going to put a bunch of responses at the end, because chained responses get crazy after a while.

    ” One of my take-aways from this discussion is that the absolute of “Teachers, as agents of the state, should not engage in political advocacy, unless that advocacy is something I agree with.”” — A Teacher

    I promise I’m not being nitpicky when I say this this a fragment. One of your takeaways is that this absolute….what?

    I was surprised to see you state this, because you seem to be critical of the statement, but that’s exactly what your position here. “Sure, forcing kids to politick is bad, but forcing kids to call Rachel Thomas isn’t political.” You appear to be arguing that anything you approve of (slamming privilege, demanding everyone adhere to your definition of civil rights) isn’t political, but simply obvious.

    I am certainly not the one saying that teachers should only engage in political advocacy when they agree. I’m saying they shouldn’t engage in it period. Where we disagree is that you want to have your dearly held beliefs be exempted from politics.

    ” What I don’t understand is if the same accusation would be fired off should I say that a circle is defined as a collection of points equal distant from a center point, or if personification is the use of human-like qualities applied to an inanimate object, generally to evoke a particular response from the reader.”–A Teacher

    This is the same thing, really. You want us to assume that your dearly held beliefs are facts. Clearly, they aren’t.

    The discussion of privilege is kind of out there, but fortunately, I’m a teacher so I don’t have to give a rat’s patootie. And before any one gets huffy–sure, I think the whole privilege issue is absurd, but teachers only have to be aware of struggling kids. The “why” of their struggle doesn’t have to matter. Perhaps there are smug jerks who make decisions as to whether or not to help their kids based on perceived privilege, but teachers who give a rich kid less help because he’s got the money for a tutor just aren’t doing their jobs. Similarly, teachers who ignore poor kids because “they should know that”.

    The whole “privilege” framework is just one more idiocy that attempts to simplify a world that’s quite complicated.

    “And maybe those of use who are trying to use the word as a tool in conversations for positive social change are the minority and we are swimming upstream against those misusing it either out of ignorance or out of ill intentions……I really fail to see what’s “Political” about that.”

    Er. You have conversations about enacting positive social change and you don’t see what’s “Political” about that? What, exactly, are you planning on changing that doesn’t have to go through the political process?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      I’m a teacher. I’ve never considered not helping a child because of their privilege, known or assumed.

      But how can I help a struggling child if I don’t know why they are struggling?Report

    • Avatar Maribou says:

      “but forcing kids to call Rachel Thomas isn’t political.”

      FTR, and really as a total aside from the larger conversation, where you make a lot of good points:
      a) treating it as “forcing” when a clear preference has been stated to the contrary is equally political unless you literally don’t care what anyone calls anyone in your classroom (which, fair enough, but I’ve rarely seen that be the case) or hold anyone to rules about that
      b) this is pretty easily solved by having a “call people what they want to be called” policy. one i’ve enacted in various workplaces where i was a manager. one that eliminates all kinds of problems besides this one, such that I already expected people to follow it long before anyone told me they had any gender-related reasons for having opinions about what names people use for them. in this framework, it’s basic courtesy, not politics.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        If Charles asks to be called Chuck, do we do so? Of course.Report

        • Avatar Maribou says:

          @kazzy And if a bunch of kids then made a super-big point about calling him CHarrrrrrrrrrrles over and over, against what he’d asked — I’d probably tell them to lay off, call people what they want to be called, and expect them to act like reasonable humans about it, at least in situations where Chuck had no choice but share space with them.

          To me that’s the easy part, whereas a lot of the other points in contention really are more political.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Agreed. This comes up often in classrooms for all sorts of reasons and my rule is always, “We call you what you like to be called.”

            We have a 2-year-old who alternates between Vaughn and V-man. The world stays spinning.Report

      • I said this earlier to A Teacher, when she charged that I was allowing transgender students to be harassed:

        ” So try and understand, if you can, that no competent teacher would allow one student to tell another he or she was going to hell for any reason whatsoever. It’s so bizarre that I am inferring you use it as a strawhorse. I would likewise find it absurd to see anyone argue that a teacher would stay silent if one student said she was a Christian and another said “your stupid god says all gays should go to hell.”

        That’s not political neutrality. If you don’t understand how to shut down that sort of conversation without resorting to political advocacy, I’m not sure what to tell you.”

        I mean, why would anyone assume teachers allow students to be bullied in their classrooms? Or that they’d need a non-teacher to suggest an obvious solution? Teachers aren’t morons. Really.Report

        • Avatar Maribou says:

          @michele-kerr Obviously I don’t think you’re a moron or that you allow bullying in your class within any commonly understood meaning of the term.

          But you kept repeating the thing about names, and you specifically chose to use the phrasing “forcing kids to call Thomas Rachel”. I’ve seen plenty and plenty of teachers who actually *use that phrasing* and think it means they need to let kids call transgender kids by names they don’t want to be called. Ie, in this case, Thomas. I’ve *been taught* by a teacher who thought that, a teacher who was quite happy to intervene and remind people to call Richard “Ricky” and not “Dick” or whatever.

          And they were otherwise fully competent teachers, and in some ways quite lovely people. They *meant well*. But they also thought it was “political” to use the same rule “Call people what they want” for the *whole* class.

          Also, if it’s such an obvious solution, why would you suggest that it’s a political one? Kids generally speaking will want to call each other by name, and the name a person wants to be called by is the obvious, non-political, *easy* choice. As you say yourself, it’s pretty obvious.

          My comment was not in response to the idea that you hadn’t thought of it, but that you were so sure it was an inarguably political choice. I was saying, heck, I’ve been doing this for decades without it being political. Why are you overcomplicating it?Report

          • Also, if it’s such an obvious solution, why would you suggest that it’s a political one? Kids generally speaking will want to call each other by name, and the name a person wants to be called by is the obvious, non-political, *easy* choice. As you say yourself, it’s pretty obvious.

            To me, the question isn’t so much whether “we should generally call people how they want to be called” is political (to me I think it is, in the sense that it involves prescribing behaviors onto people who might not wish to adopt that behavior), but whether it’s the type of political that a teacher rightly may/should be expected to enforce. To me, the answer to that indirect question is yes, teachers rightly may/should be expected to enforce that rule.

            One of the frustrating things about this part of the conversation is that while maybe a few in this thread don’t seem to have a problem with the situation Michele describes, most of us here actually agree that it’s wrong to corral students to advocate for a certain legislative policy. “A Teacher,” in the comment that started this subthread, seems to be one of those who so agrees:

            I share the shock that a school would go so far as to press students to engage in a specific act of political protest. At the end of the day, everyone in a free democracy should have the choice to opt out of politics.

            I also appreciate the value in holding back on some political issues because students should grow and make their choices about issues on which there is room to politically disagree in a civil fashion. How much to spend on education vs defense has room for some kind of civil disagreement, for example. Should the government use nothing but civil unions to denote marriage vs all the “kinds” of marriage would be another such question.

            Now, there is much disagreement on our ultimate takeaway from the problem Michele is describing. And I believe much of that disagreement is based more on reductio. In that sense, it’s better to phrase opposition/disagreement with what “A Teacher” says with “if we take what you say to a certain logical extreme, we’ll come to xyz point with which you say you disagree” than it is to phrase it as “you’re just like those people I’m criticizing.” (For the record, I’m not sure the reductio works…..but it’s a way to disagree without creating as much heat/acrimony as has been created.)Report

            • Avatar A Teacher says:

              gabriel conroy:
              Now, there is much disagreement on our ultimate takeaway from the problem Michele is describing. And I believe much of that disagreement is based more on reductio

              Which is where I tried to start this line of questioning by saying “I struggle…”

              For a student who believes, strongly, that there are two genders to which you are assigned at birth by the nature of your genitals, calling Thomas by the name Rachel is deeply problematic. He could be moved to call them Tommy, or T, or T-man, or possibly even Steve as those all fit in his world view. But the act of saying “you need to call her Rachel” could be seen as political.

              And as someone who has taught “Rachel”, I can assure you that she needs to hear an adult say “This is who she is; at least tolerate it, but if you can go a step further and accept it.” far more than she needs to hear an adult say “We should all form our own opinions about who Thomas is and what we should call him.”

              It also ties into the question of what kind of social change can be affected without advocating specifically for legal policy (at least that’s how I’m interpreting the question @michele-kerr asked). I believe that a lot of the reason we’ve seen more acceptance of the marginalized communities (LBGTQ+) is that we’ve normalized acceptance in school and the workplace. I believe part of the pathway towards legal status for same sex partnerships rests on the fact that small acts of kindness and acceptance built into something more.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @a-teacher ““We should all form our own opinions about who Thomas is and what we should call him.”

                That isn’t actually what @michele-kerr said one should say though. I can think of three or four more ways of handling it besides what is, to me, the most obvious one. She shouldn’t have to prove what she would say in the classroom in this way (and neither should you, to her, of course).

                Stepping back from the argument about what is and isn’t political for a second, here, @a teacher – as someone who *is* trans, albeit nonbinary and with a complicated relationship to pronouns, I would every bit been as happy to hear “in this room we call people in the ways they want to be called,” as I would to hear someone be told they were required to tolerate and preferably accept me. Actually I would prefer the former. I want them to treat me respectfully *regardless* of whether they want to tolerate or accept me. I want them to see that it’s a broader application of a common rule, not a special rule for weirdos. And I think in practice, fake it till you make it applies to respect, so it also tends to actually work IME. The other part, trans kids will pick up from YOU, that you aren’t just faking it, that you really see and value them as people, and they’ll appreciate that too.

                So even if you’re operating purely on a political axis that you believe to be not only justified but required – I’m not sure you’re right. I’m not sure you’re wrong either, but I do think it’s worth pondering.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Maribou: @A Teacher ““We should all form our own opinions about who Thomas is and what we should call him.”

                That isn’t actually what @Michele Kerr said one should say though.I can think of three or four more ways of handling it besides what is, to me, the most obvious one. She shouldn’t have to prove what she would say in the classroom in this way (and neither should you, to her, of course).

                No, you’re right, and I never intended to attribute that to her.

                I was simply positing them as two extreme positions and ones I’ve been in on what is a bit more of a current issue. In my career I have not had to deal with a parent/ student who complained of “political correctness” when selecting between Colored, Black, or African American for talking about a classmate where as names and preferred pronouns are things I have had to deal with.

                There are definitely a wealth of different options between the two even if one student steadfastly refuses to accept that gender identity is not necessarily linked to body parts. My thoughts were related to what each student needs from me as their teacher as much as keeping peace and respect.

                I was also musing around in my head the problem with the word “tolerate”. You tolerate a negative thing until it can be removed or overcome. Somewhere in that sea of workshops similar to the ones Kazzy mentioned I remember an essay about problems with saying “We tolerate this” compared to “we accept this”.

                And also bouncing off that was thought of how either “side” would react to the other and long term impacts of that.

                I do apologize if there was an implication that I was ascribing a particular position to a specific commentator. As said I was just staking out two generally opposed positions for the sake of argument.Report

              • I’m pretty sure I agree, especially with your middle two paragraphs.Report

            • Avatar Maribou says:

              “it involves prescribing behaviors onto people who might not wish to adopt that behavior”
              If that’s your definition of “political” then pretty much the entirety of the school day is political. I promise you there was very little about the behaviors involved in going to junior high school that I wished to adopt. Would have learned more, had better social experiences at the public library all day. But I wasn’t allowed to opt out.

              Now, okay, arguably every second of the school day *might* be political – the personal is political, as the slogan goes – but dang. That’s not how just about anyone in this discussion has been using the term so far.

              I agree that the reductios are, generally speaking, the real locus of the disagreement here.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                *cough* should have said “almost the whole school day” and not “every second of the school day”. Speaking of reductios.Report

              • I guess I better re-think my definition of “political,” because I think I mean something less than what I actually said but more than what people here (aside from Michele, if I read her right) seem to mean.

                I guess one could say, with reason, that if people accept my definition, then what is “political” ceases to be a meaningful distinction.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @gabriel-conroy I’d like to see what your real definition is – where you actually draw those lines and why – which is why I prodded at that one. On the other hand, I don’t actually think children should be forced to do even a third, or a half, of the things they are forced to do by the school system*** (or by their parents, or etc etc etc) so I wouldn’t necessarily mind if we adopted a definition exactly that extreme. But I hadn’t thought you were nearly as anarchic as I am :D. Plus I see that as the very long game, not something we can deal with immediately.

                ***there are some things I think smallish children should be forced to do, for their own safety and because that sort of forcing is just part of how mammals learn. being picked up and moved around in order to be fed, when they’re upset and unable to figure out what to do because they’re hungry, for example. and then, the line between force, coercion, and persuasion is IMO, a vector, not a pair of barriers…. but that’s a whole nother discussion I suppose.Report

              • @maribou

                I’m not sure what my real definition is, and I have trouble arriving at arriving at anything beyond a provisional definition. (In my (partial) defense, though, I don’t see a lot of definitions being offered in this thread.) I’ll list what I consider some of the attributes of the “political,” although I realize that these attributes can be mutually contradictory.

                Before I offer my list, though, I’d like to stress that my argument in this thread is that just because something can be shown to be political, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically out-of-bounds for a teacher to do. In other words, I think I am agreeing with @a-teacher . At the same time, I believe I agree with those in this thread, like @oscar-gordon above (or below?) who warn that the tables can be turned.

                Here’s my list. The “political” is that which….

                1. prescribes the use of legitimate coercion;

                2. contests how “legitimate” from #1 is defined;

                3. seeks to define, create, and enforce just or (pace @andrew-donaldson ) fair outcomes;

                4. contests how resources are distributed;

                5. governs how what any one person group of persons does affects any other person or persons;

                6. operates within and in reference to a “public good,” where the “public” is a shared context (e.g., a “state,” a “city,” a “family,”) and the “good” represents the perceived interests of that shared context as a “thing in itself” that are distinct from the interests of any individual. One needn’t make the leap that this “public” is indeed a distinct end in itself or is autonomous, but thinking in terms of a “public good” does require one to accept distinctness and even autonomy as a “for the sake of argument” fiction;

                and 7. we need a #7 because I hate the #6.

                You could argue that numbers 1, 2, and 3 above are basically the same thing and that most of the points, except perhaps #6 (and of course #7) deal in some manner with power or compulsion. So maybe–and I’m not sure how much I’m willing to stand by this–I could reduce the “political” down to “that which involves power struggles over coercion in reference to a public.”

                Those attributes and my “reduction” are probably loose enough to include almost anything, so here are some contravening attributes that in my view make something less political even if it has one or more of the attributes I’ve just listed. These don’t make the “political” non-political, but they introduce elements that curb the “political-ness.” These contravening attributes are best thought of as issues of degree. The more something is “like” one of the following, the less it is “like” something political.

                1. Bonds of interpersonal affection. A loving parent who “forces” their small child to do something for their own good (per your asterisked example) isn’t operating in a manner I’d call “political.”

                2 The volunatriness of “shared context” that constitutes or defines the public. A bowling league is less political than a professional association. A professional association like the Society of American Archivists is less political than a professional association like the American Bar Foundation.

                3. Compassion, empathy, and charity (in the sense of caritas). Entering into another person’s point of view and caring for that person as an end in themselves militates against the “political.” This is kind of like #1, except that it can be a decision or exercise of the will while #1 needn’t be. (Or….maybe one can “choose” to have a bond of interpersonal affection, but it’s harder to do, at least I think so.)

                I don’t intend these contravening attributes to be exhaustive, but more like examples of what can contravene or soften the “political.”

                I’m not sure where any of this leaves us in our present discussion. School–especially a public school–is less voluntary than many other environments. And the public good that, say, A Teacher is arguing for isn’t necessarily the perceived good of the school but more fairness toward, say, Rachel/Tom, along with a compassionate understanding of the situation in which Rachel/Tom finds themselves. (And in my reading, A Teacher is also showing compassion for those students who define gender in more binary, “cis-biological” terms.). So maybe that makes it “less political” than I had thought before writing this very long blog comment. On the other hand, the example Michele uses in her OP is much more strongly “political” in most of my senses above.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @gabriel-conroy Well it was a very interesting long blog comment, so I’m glad you wrote it. Thank you. Lots to mull over.Report

              • If I understand your 7 points, then I agree with that definition as “political”–using school authority and mandated education as a means of forcing students to comply with opinions that are outside the realm of education.Report

          • I am pretty sure I’ve said this before. Trying again:

            Saying “Joey, please call people by their preferred names.” is not political.

            “Joey, you are insisting on treating Thomas as a girl and if you keep doing it I will write you up and call your parents in and tell them that if you don’t acknowledge Thomas’s right to choose his own gender you’ll be expelled.” is political.

            A Teacher thinks the kid who won’t use Thomas’s preferred gender is a problem, is violating Thomas’s civil rights. He/She is shocked that I don’t consider it a civil rights problem and jumped from that to the assumption that I would allow transgender kids to be bullied.

            I am completely stumped as to why you would think I am saying the first *is* political, since clearly I am not. I am also unclear as to why you don’t understand that A Teacher is *not* talking about the first, which is clearly inadequate to anyone who thinks that civil rights must be upheld as apolitical expressions.

            I genuinely can’t understand why it’s not completely obvious from the conversation between me and A Teacher that he/she thinks it’s essential to demand students be treated properly as a civil rights issue and that what you lay out is utterly inadequate to anyone who thinks of it as such.

            And in fact A Teacher says exactly that below.Report

            • Avatar DavidTC says:

              @michele-kerr

              Saying “Joey, please call people by their preferred names.” is not political.

              “Joey, you are insisting on treating Thomas as a girl and if you keep doing it I will write you up and call your parents in and tell them that if you don’t acknowledge Thomas’s right to choose his own gender you’ll be expelled.” is political.

              Erm…to me, those are exactly the same things, except two trivial wording differences. First, you’ve included the punishment on the second, but not the first. So let me add that:

              Saying “Joey, please call people by their preferred names and if you keep not doing it I will write you up and call your parents in and tell them that if you don’t acknowledge Thomas’s right to choose his own name you’ll be expelled.” is not political.

              “Joey, you are insisting on treating Thomas as a girl and if you keep doing it I will write you up and call your parents in and tell them that if you don’t acknowledge Thomas’s right to choose his own gender you’ll be expelled.” is political.

              (If students keep doing anything the teacher tells them not to, regardless of how trivial, eventually they will get in trouble, otherwise the teacher literally has no authority.)

              Second, you seem to be saying that ‘treating someone as a girl’ is apparently somehow different than ‘calling them by a feminine name’. Now, I can think of _other_ ways to ‘treat someone as a girl’, but from what I can tell, the topic is, indeed, calling someone by the wrong gender name. In fact, it started with you objecting to the idea ‘Sure, forcing kids to politick is bad, but forcing kids to call Rachel Thomas isn’t political.’

              So, to summarize, from what I can tell, I seem to get the idea that a teacher demanding students call a student who was born ‘Rachel’ with the name ‘Thomas’ is ‘political’…but it’s not political when a teacher demands students don’t _tease_ Thomas in that manner by using a name he doesn’t want them to use, and that the teacher themselves should use the preferred name.

              …so…huh? Is that idea that teachers might ‘politically’ demand students use one name to refer to a trans student who doesn’t care what name people call him? That’s a pretty obscure situation.

              Or is the difference something to do with forcing the student to ‘acknowledge’ Thomas’s gender? I…am not sure what you are thinking this would consist of. As you’ve said it’s perfectly find to force the student to use the preferred name, I assume it can’t be that…is it using specific pronouns? Some sort of announcement in front of the class that they admit Thomas is male?

              Why don’t you give a specific example where you think a teacher would be acting politically? Not just what they are saying (Which seems basically identical to the non-political thing), but some actual events that could happen and what a ‘political’ response would be.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Everything is political to someone. Teacher’s can be “non political” because anything they do will be seen, by someone, as political. Somehow.

                Fun story about a local school district, which is getting grief from more conservative parents about a 20 minute walkout they had. The school didn’t want to do anything. Doing something irritates some people. Irritated people mean the school has to deal with them.

                The Student Council, however, just informed the administration that about a third of the school, minimum, planned to do the walkout. The school, faced with that, sighed and decided that sticking a third (again, minimum) of the student body in detention wasn’t really gonna work and doing so would get them hassled by a different group of parents, talked the Student Council around to doing the walkout during the 20 minute “homeroom” session (the bit of the school day mostly devoted to figuring out who is actually there and other bookkeeping), and to style it more as a memorial for the victims of school shootings, and to focus it on connecting to other students (you know, getting to know people, trying to make sure people don’t feel isolated or bullied).

                You know, to make it as non-political as possible because they didn’t want to do anything political, because politics irritates people, and irritated people annoy school staff trying to do their jobs.

                And, of course, a number of parents called to scream about how the school shouldn’t be “interjecting politics” into “education” and how dare they indoctrinate kids into with their sick liberal values.

                You can’t win. They didn’t want to do anything, the students forced them into a position where a number of people were gonna be angry at them for “being political”, and they tried their best to just make it about “People dying sucks and bullying sucks” and it didn’t make a whit of difference.

                Politics is in the eye of the angry parent phoning in to yell about it. Not teaching the Bible? Political. Teaching the Bible? Political. Common Core? Political. Not common core? Political. Literary analysis? Political.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Morat20:

                You can’t win. They didn’t want to do anything, the students forced them into a position where a number of people were gonna be angry at them for “being political”, and they tried their best to just make it about “People dying sucks and bullying sucks” and it didn’t make a whit of difference.

                We also had a set time in our building that we scheduled for. Students were given the choice to walk out or opt out. Walk outs went outside for a march and memorial (it was also Michigan and it was about 10 degrees with wind). Opt Outs went to the gym or media center to hangout for 25 minutes.

                For the most part none of the kids made much noise around me about not liking it. For the call for a walk out on 4/20 there was no involvement from the school and to my knowledge, no walk out of any students. In that case, the school’s official stance was the 4/20 walk out was specifically a call for more gun control legislation and thus strictly political, where the first walkout was a memorial and recognition and not political.

                We had a few staff comment that if the kids really want to make a difference by using civil disobedience, they should be, ya know, disobeying rather than participating in a school sanctioned event. But on the other hand, it is generally better as a school to manage these things, give the kids an outlet do what they feel they need to do in a safe and constructive way. Given the potential backlash of a less organized, and monitored, event, I think things went pretty well here.

                I’ll guess I’ll add on a bit too by saying that the expectation that teachers pull back and serve only as content delivery systems misses out on why most (in my experience) of us went into teaching in the first place. Yes I love mathematics, probably almost at an unhealthy level, but I also love working with young people. I take pride in being the shoulder they cry on, the hand to high-five, and ear to just listen. I take ownership of their success that I helped push them to, and I feel the weight of the failures I didn’t prepare them well enough for. I’ve been at this a while and I know I’ve got a ways to go before I can say I reach every kid, every day, but I do try. If nothing else I try to find out who needs me the most and make sure they have at least one adult in their life rooting for them.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                The local high school here did basically exactly what you said. There was going to be a walkout, and it would have resulted in a bunch of suspensions. So the school basically said ‘Yeah, we’re going to stop classes’.

                And, likewise, there was someone acting like they wanted to start exactly this sort of stupid political thing on Facebook. They actually wanted to file some sort of informational request to see the deliberative process, presumably to figure out how to best attack the school, and wanted to see if anyone could help chip in for the resources and money.

                I said ‘So, the kids are angry that adults and society aren’t listening to how worried they are about guns, and the conservative response to this is…get the teachers in trouble over how they handle the kids? Seems like a sound plan to get the kids angry at conservatives for both attacking teachers _and_ ignoring what they are saying. I’ll help you pay for it.’

                Weirdly, they did not take me up on my offer. In fact, they appear to have deleted their post off Facebook.

                (I might have mentioned how I troll Facebook before.)Report

              • “Saying “Joey, please call people by their preferred names and if you keep not doing it I will write you up and call your parents in and tell them that if you don’t acknowledge Thomas’s right to choose his own name you’ll be expelled.” is not political.

                “Joey, you are insisting on treating Thomas as a girl and if you keep doing it I will write you up and call your parents in and tell them that if you don’t acknowledge Thomas’s right to choose his own gender you’ll be expelled.” is political.
                ***********************************************

                Both of these are political. They’re also obnoxious, and I would fall over dead before being the kind of jackass who said either of these things.

                I’ve given many examples, and I’m certainly not going to repeat myself.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                You, up here :

                Saying “Joey, please call people by their preferred names.” is not political.

                You, just now, slightly rephrased:

                “Joey, please call people by their preferred names and if you keep not doing it I will write you up and call your parents in and tell them that if you don’t acknowledge Thomas’s right to choose his own name you’ll be expelled.” is political.

                So, I am forced to assume that your definition of ‘political’ is ‘If the teacher threatens to use any sort of discipline to make students do what the teacher says, that’s political.’, whereas…non-political teachers let students break rules all they want? Or just use the implicit threat of ‘I am the teacher and you have to do what I say or you’ll get in trouble’, but never actually stating that explicitly?

                Actually, as that’s a really stupid definition of ‘political’, what I’m _actually_ going to assume is that you decided create a strawman who behaves like a jackass to demonstrate a ‘political’ position and one who behaves nicely to show a ‘non-political’ position. And then you completely ignored my point in that they appear to be complaining about the same behavior (calling someone a non-preferred name) and asking the student to literally do the same thing (call the other student by the preferred name in the future), it’s just one is adding a large threat on top of that.

                This threat vs. non-threat distinction might sometimes make sense in many interactions with people, there is a difference between someone saying ‘Do something’ vs. ‘Do something or else’. Except, a) that difference has nothing to do with _politics_ at all (The ‘something’ might be political, whether or not there’s a threat is not.) , and b) that this interaction is between a teacher and a student, where there is already an implicit threat of ‘do this I am telling you to do or you will get in trouble’.

                So the conclusion I have drawn is that your definition of ‘political’ is (DavidTC, what the heck dude? You know where this line is drawn, we’ve talked about this several times? – censored – maribou)Report

              • @davidtc 1) Your last sentence crossed the civil line with gusto, and I’m pretty sure you know that, rein it in or you’ll get suspended (oh look, now I’m the jackass spelling things out). 2) the “strawman who behaves nicely” wasn’t something Michele Kerr made up, it was what I said I say to people, that she *also* disagrees with saying, her point was that it’s not political but it’s also not useful. I think? Anyway, I don’t agree with her argument here, but you’re treating it without the context of the entire rest of the ongoing conversation she was making it in the context of.

                Please don’t lose track and jump in like that, or if you’re going to – we all do from time to time – don’t be so rude about it.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                the “strawman who behaves nicely” wasn’t something Michele Kerr made up, it was what I said I say to people, that she *also* disagrees with saying, her point was that it’s not political but it’s also not useful. I think?

                I don’t want to criticize the moderator, but I don’t think you’re following the conversation she and I are having. She just said that it _was_ political.

                She said that by quoting me saying it wasn’t (With no indication it was a quote except a starting quote mark) and then afterward stating it (Or, rather, ‘both’) were political. Which is indeed somewhat confusing in layout. (Not that I can complain.)

                And so I suspect you got confused there.

                Please don’t lose track and jump in like that, or if you’re going to – we all do from time to time – don’t be so rude about it.

                I also don’t understand this idea that there’s some sort of context I am missing.

                I asked her to clarify her ‘current’ examples of political behavior WRT trangender students (She had not given later examples that I am aware of) at the point she had given them, and she did so. There’s no missing context.

                The discussion had indeed moved on to other things, but I still wanted her to define exactly what she was saying about ‘how teachers should instruct other students about trans students without it being political’, because her examples were _really_ unclear, and still are.

                Now, in her reply, she also said that both my modified first example and her original second example were ‘obnoxious’ and she wouldn’t do that, and I think that is in reference to people her accusing her of that elsewhere. But I wasn’t doing that (And I’ll take her at her word anyway), which is why I basically ignored that part of the post. If she wants to make sure I know that she’s not a jackass, okay, I know that. I didn’t think she was. I am just trying to get some clarification on the term ‘political’ and how it applies to how teachers should have students behave towards trans students.

                And I don’t understand what you are trying to read into my use of the word jackass. I just started using the word ‘jackass’ to describe hypothetical teachers who would say those things, matching her usage, which I did to be polite.

                But, clearly, rereading what I originally wrote, I was annoyed that she had seemed to not even bother to read my post, and had responded with ‘Of course [example she previously said was non-political plus me formalizing the implied threat] is political behavior!’, like that was some sort of _obvious_ statement instead her apparently not even realizing my example was a rewrite of her example with a specific threat of punishment tacked on.

                But I will try to say it politer next time.Report

              • Avatar Maribou, Moderator says:

                @davidtc To narrow things down for you – you said she created a strawman who behaves nicely, I am the one who proposed saying the thing you are calling a strawman – She didn’t create a strawman, she was running with something *I* said and criticizing it. That is, de facto, not a strawman, because she’s responding to something I actually said. She might be wrong, or she might be right, but treating it like it’s a strawman is unreasonable, and implies that you didn’t actually read/follow what was going on before you started commenting.

                But really, the meat of my complaint was how rude the censored part sentence was. It wasn’t the use of the word jackass.Report

        • Avatar Maribou says:

          ” why would anyone assume teachers allow students to be bullied in their classrooms?”

          For the record, while I don’t see you that way, the reason I might assume it as a generally possible or even *likely* thing, depending on age group, is that I was bullied in my classroom by my fellow students, my little sister was bullied in her classroom by her fellow students, and many many kids still get bullied in their classrooms. By their fellow students.

          Every day.

          Teachers aren’t morons but neither are they omniscient, and even some very good teachers are pretty oblivious to some pretty nasty things.Report

          • Avatar bookdragon says:

            Amen.

            I was bullied. Both of my kids have been bullied, and only when I made specific complaints about it to the school administration was anything done.

            But maybe that’s because the bullying was ‘political’. My son was taunted about the Holocaust, even told he should be in an oven. When the principal spoke to the students doing that, they claimed ‘free speech’ and said he couldn’t reprimand them even for bullying since they hadn’t physically hurt anyone. They got suspended. The parents then complained that the school was being ‘political’ and giving in to SJWs, etc.

            So, out of curiosity, @michele-kerr , how would you handle that one? I mean, these students are claiming to hold a political belief – white nationalism/supremacy – and that the school has no right to intervene in how they express it as long as they don’t *physically* attack other students.Report

            • I’d say that it sounds like something that would have made the news, and eagerly await to read more about the story.Report

            • Avatar Maribou says:

              @bookdragon FWIW I think she already adequately described similar cases in other threads. How she would handle it is not really what I was getting at.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                I am not aware of those threads, so if they are in this bunch of comments I’ve obviously missed them.

                But given her reply to me, on an incident that I have mentioned here several months ago, (so no, I am not making it up, but I am certainly NOT giving personal information out by linking to any news stories) I can see that she has no interest in responding to my question with any sort of thought, honesty or even basic decency, so I think I will give up on trying to engage.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @bookdragon That’s absolutely fair, you shouldn’t feel the need to, and I didn’t mean to suggest that her response was courteous. (In fact, there’s a comment in this comment section somewhere where I talked about how frustrated I was at a pattern I feel she is demonstrating of responding to things people experienced by implying they didn’t happen, in a way that feels like she’s mocking their lived experiences.)

                I was merely saying that it was, in some part, a response to being asked, albeit indirectly, whether she would do something awful that she already made it clear (fairly repeatedly) she wouldn’t do, elsewhere in the comments on this post. Whether she’s offended or not, few people react as their kindest selves in that context.

                (Also, as an aside, what happened to your kid really sucks, and I’m sorry your family had to go through that.)Report

              • Sorry, but I feel that “I find it unlikely this happened” is an entirely legitimate thing to say. If you note, I provide links to everything I claimed happened..

                There has never been a law banning women from learning science. And given the eager media coverage, I find the story very unlikely. What I’ve learned, in years of online discourse, is that people tend to overstate and then, when pressed, certain details come out that basically negate the story.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @michele-kerr Speaking as a managing editor of this site, it is a best practice here to not accuse people of making things up, but to assume they are discussing their experiences in good faith. At least not without far more cause than you have had to do so. If you’re going to persist in it, we’re probably going to have to discuss this with Will, somewhere other than in the comment section, because it’s just … not how we do things. At all. Even when someone is being kinda rude first.

                In my personal case, I didn’t say there was a law. I didn’t *once* say there was a law. What I said was that my mother was not allowed by her school. It being a small town in Canada in the 19… *counts on fingers* 60s (early half), they really didn’t need some kind of legal validation to make that decision at the local level, and there’s not going to be news coverage or links about it. It happened to her and to the rest of the girls in her high school class. That’s how it happened. It had effects. I don’t see why there has to be a law for it to be a political situation, at all, but regardless, it is a real thing that really happened, and your standard of proof for it to have happened is absurd. People in conversation are not historians or news reporters.

                In Kazzy’s case, he’s been present on this site, and talking about his experiences at said school that you heavily implied he made up, for literally years. Bookdragon, same thing, she’s a regular commenter who has talked about her kids being bullied in detail on here before. She doesn’t “owe links” to be able to discuss that when it’s relevant to her perspective.

                These are not random commenters on the internet to treat as you will, or rules-lawyer with me about whether claiming people’s experiences are not plausible is uncivil. Nor are they reporters who need to prove what they say. They are community members and we should all be doing our best to be *in community with each other* in the comments – that’s part of what this site is about.

                It’s nearly impossible to argue in good faith with people who think you are making up your life experiences. We want people to be able to share their perspectives and arguments in these comments, not to be told they’re unlikely to be telling the truth about their lives.

                If you value the right to tell people they’re making up their experiences over the ability to be in community with them, as I said, we should probably talk this over less publicly, and involve @will-truman in the conversation.Report

              • You can, of course, do as you like. I think it’s pretty reasonable to question statements. If you wish to view them as accusations, that’s on you.

                But in fact, I was correct to question your statement. I would have been very surprised indeed to learn of credible cite of an American town that banned girls from taking science classes within the last eighty years or so. Even if the girl had been African American, the terrible limitations she faced would have been based on race, not gender.

                And it turns out you’re Canadian! Oh, well. Much different thing. The Canadians interned *all* Japanese, not just the West Coast Japanese, as the US did. I’m sure rural Canadians did god knows what to women.

                But my statement that I knew of no law banning girls from education was–I thought obviously–referring to American law.

                You viewed me as calling you a liar, when I was actually just stating the facts as I knew them. When I’m arguing from all sides, I liked to keep the debate on credible grounds.Report

              • @michele-kerr If you are sincerely attempting to clarify rather than to undermine, please try to find a different way of doing that. Because you’re communicating, over and over, that you don’t believe what people say.

                I didn’t say I was American, I didn’t say there was a law. You shifted the goalposts when you made it about a law. If you need to do that, do it explicitly; if you want to ask clarifying questions, *question* people, don’t make snide comments.

                Seriously, it’s not a “do as you like,” it’s a “can you comment productively in the context of this site, or not?”Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                @michele-kerr

                I still await links to support your claims that schools suspend chldren for having the wrong opinion.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @kazzy Here’s a case where a kid made a principled decision not to express a walkout opinion, or an anti-walkout opinion, and was suspended: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/student-suspended-staying-in-class/ (technically, suspended for not going to study hall and I can see the argument, but it’s also exactly the sort of thing that made me hate school as a teenager and on a different issue I easily could have been that kid, and would 100 percent have felt suspended for my opinion.)Report

              • Not specifically to this reply but pertinent to the thread. Since we are referencing students walk-out/don’t walk out decisions I’ll insert it here, is how one of my kids’ school (This is a 6th grade through 8th grade Middle School) handled the mass walk-out planned after the Parkland shooting. They took one period of the day, and made a mandatory school activity on the athletic field, all students all teachers and staff. No adults outside the of the teachers and staff where permitted. The Student Government Organization was allowed to speak, or designate another student to speak on the actual topic of school safety, the shootings, etc. but no adult was. Students were also given the option if they didn’t want to participate in the SGO speaking to walk around the track or other activity on the field. The school SRO’s were present and did not allow media or parents not volunteering under normal means to participate. Then they all went back inside. No walking out was permitted at any other time without usual penalties. While not pleasing to all parties, it did seem to balances safety and accountability of the students, letting them express themselves, and also keeping it from becoming a circus. FWIW the high school did something very similar. Curious if there were similar examples or what folks thought of our districts response to “walk-outs.”Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Since we’re in Michigan we split ours as “go out to ‘March’ around the running track” or “Go to the gym to hangout for 20 minutes. Every student had to be “somewhere” either the “walk out” or the “opt out”. And then staff was split between the two locations to supervise. At the March the names of the 17 slain were read with a short biography and a few moments of silence. Inside the kids hung out.

                To my knowledge there were no major complaints.Report

              • Both of these are weak-tea. If a school wide event is created to handle a protest, the school is politically involved. If the kids who don’t want to be involved have to meander around a track, then they are politically tagged as outsiders.

                This is pretty awful, and quite similar to what I describe above.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                So let me clarify and repeat a few things for you. I must not have communicated well before.

                First, the students who wanted to not participate were given the option to go to the gym or the media center to be monitored. The “march” was outside on the track.

                Second, and I didn’t make this totally clear, this was student driven. A group of students came to the school and said “we plan to walk out in protest and we expect about 200-400 students to participate.” The school responded by creating these two programs as a way to manage the situation in a way that kept students safe and did not force anyone to participate in a way they did not agree with. Do you agree with the walk out? Good, walk out. Do you not agree? Good, here is where everyone is going so we can keep everyone safe.

                You call this awful and compare it to forcing students to travel to a protest about changing funding laws. Okay, that’s totally on you. I think there is a huge difference because this was student driven, did not cost more than 30 minutes of class, and was totally optional. In fact, more students “opted out” than “walked out”. If anything, the kids who walked out were labeled as the “outsiders” and they were literally outside. In Michigan. In March.

                So let’s talk about awful.

                Awful is attempting to physically restrain students from leaving a classroom.

                Awful is allowing 300 students to congregate in an area of the school without some kind of adult supervision.

                Awful is managing 300 suspensions/ detentions after a group of students declare their intention and ask you to help keep everyone safe.

                There are no solutions here that are not awful, really. Given the choices, what would you have the school do? Honestly. You’ve claimed to be a teacher. How would you handle 300 students telling you they plan to walk out of class with the understanding that all of them will? Would you bring in the police to physically force them back? Arrest them for truancy?

                And lastly, what is your message going forward about how much the school cares about an issue that is important to 300 kids? Now, that’s only 1/6th of your student body. It’s not a majority. But it matters to them. Is your message that “we don’t care what matters, only to teach you facts?” Because that sounds great to non-teachers. That sounds great to people who don’t have the experience to see how important relationships are to learning. “Just the facts,” is a mantra of people who haven’t seen how important trust between a teacher and student is to get them to lower their barriers and let the learning happen.

                Yes you can learn from anyone but it’s far easier when it’s someone you respect as a person and who you trust to respect you in a similar way.Report

              • The students in my case weren’t “forced to travel” anywhere. They were penalized by some teachers if they didn’t participate, but basically “opting out” was made extremely onerous.

                Likewise, being forced to meander around in an event called by the majority of students, who are given authorization by the school to hold an event, is onerous. The school shouldn’t have given the students the right to hold the event. Remember (as you observed in another comment), schools aren’t required to respect student opinion if they think it would be disruptive. Well, if you have to give only one side a voice, and create special circumstances for those who don’t want to participate, that’s disruptive. Stopping school is disruptive. The reason schools did this is *not* because they wanted to give the majority of students a voice, but because the school’s administrators and teachers AGREED with the students, and wanted to get in on the action, hopefully swaying political opinion.

                But sure, let’s go ahead and pretend it’s an authentic display of student courage. I’m sure back in the 60s you’d have been all in favor of a majority of students putting together a demonstration in support of segregated schools, allowing anyone who didn’t want to be a part of it–you know, all the students of color–to meander around the track or go to the gym.

                But of course you wouldn’t. Consistently, your endorsement or rebuke of school activities are entirely based on whether you agree or disagree with the opinions being promoted.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Okay then.

                What would you do?

                Put on your Admin Hat and respond to 300 kids who announce they are walking out of class. How do you respond?

                Call the police to cuff them?

                Suspend all of them? (bear in mind if enough students are absent the day does not count towards state requirements and would have to count as some kind of snow-day-like event and possibly even need to be added to the year).

                Physically bar them from leaving?

                Let them all march out and then HOPE nothing goes pear-shaped with 300 unsupervised kids?

                What is your solution?Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Michele Kerr: The reason schools did this is *not* because they wanted to give the majority of students a voice, but because the school’s administrators and teachers AGREED with the students, and wanted to get in on the action, hopefully swaying political opinion.

                Evidence?

                Any at all that this was not about security and safety and simply a matter of a few administrators taking advantage of the kids? Any emails to that effect? Maybe someone speaking on the record to a news outlet?

                You’re making quite the leap when there is a real need to provide security for students, when a large portion make their intentions clear and you’re left trying to be sure that you’re both respectful of their rights and you’re trying to not make things worse by your actions.

                Again, I’m going to ask you: If what the school did was so awful, awful enough that you’d say I was JUST like the teachers who coerced students into an act of political protest they did want to participate in, what is the fix?

                Do you have solutions or just critiques of the system?

                I’m sure back in the 60s you’d have been all in favor of a majority of students putting together a demonstration in support of segregated schools, allowing anyone who didn’t want to be a part of it–you know, all the students of color–to meander around the track or go to the gym.

                You correctly identify that I would not support this because it isn’t about my political values. It’s about our culture’s values. Trying to draw the line there doesn’t work because I’m not the one who is labeling everything as political and I’m also not the one trying to say that teachers and schools should be completely free of political or even social engagement.

                Schools are where we do more than impart knowledge. We create relationships. We build up our students. We welcome them, the good and the bad and the indifferent. We love them for who they are and we work to find the best they have.

                And it’s not always easy. How do you love a kid who hates you because you look like his abusive father? How do you reach a kid who hasn’t heard a kind word from an adult in over a year? What do you do to teach math to a kid who sleeps in the backseat of the family car?

                And how do you teach the kid who actively believes that the girl next to him is a terrorist simply because she wears a head scarf?

                Maybe you would say “well he’s welcome to that opinion”. Maybe. I don’t know.

                What I can say is that my values dictate that I should try to get him to see that young lady the way I do: As a young woman who wants to better herself in education, and not to judge her for the actions of a handful of people she happens to have something in common with.

                Maybe you’re right and I’m the same awful kind of person that coerced kids into political action against their will. If that’s the kind of brush you want to use to characterize people, if that’s how you see the nuances of social and political engagement, well, I won’t argue with you further.

                But… I would like an answer to the question of “How would you handle 1/6th of your student body, 300 kids, announcing their intention to march out of class?” Do better than we did. I’m quite curious.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                @maribou The problem there of course is that he was suspended for not going to a supervised area of the school during a school event.

                We have all-school assemblies and due to staffing we just can’t spare the people to let kids “opt out” of going and sitting in their classrooms unsupervised. Now we could make the case that kids shouldn’t be forced to go to the winter sports assembly and cheer for their classmates who happen to play sports-ball. In a similar vein I’m trying to get Mock Trial recognized as a Winter Sport and yes, next year “march” into the assembly, suits, briefcases and all. I’m a (legal) nerd like that.

                It’s unfortunate that he ascribed the choice to opt out as disrespecting the victims of the Parkland shooting. But he wasn’t suspended for having a particular opinion or non-opinion. Students who had an opinion engaged in an action based on it. Because of the numbers of those kids, the school had to provide security for them. The third option he wanted wasn’t available and because he insisted on being insubordinate, he was suspended.

                I understand the point of view of not wanting to “take a side” but that could have been avoided by being a little more proactive and attempting to push the school into creating a third option that would also be supervised.

                That said, I doubt the school presented it as a “here is for the walk out, here is against” for the very reason that doing so would have created a need for a third “I’m not either of those”. At least in our building it was presented as “If you want to participate go here. If you don’t want to participate go there”.

                And there has to be a finite number of choices when a school is pushed into this position. If we say “here’s 3rd option” can’t there be a call for a 4th option for those who want to gather to protest that the school is providing security to some percentage of the student body who wants to walk out? And a 4th option for those who don’t want to walk out but want to gather in opposition to those opposed to the school providing security for those walking out? and a 5th option for those who don’t care about either but are opposed to those opposed to those …. where was I?Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @a teacher Allow me to quote myself above:
                “technically, suspended for not going to study hall and I can see the argument, ”

                This is probably one of those areas where my anarchic views about school in general are showing.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                @maribou

                I don’t know if that story as presented supports @michele-kerr
                ‘s statement here:

                “Today, an exemplary student can be expelled for the wrong opinions, or a schools interpretation of that opinion can be entered into permanent records that are far more final than they used to be.

                If you think it’s the same as it used to be, you have no idea what it’s like now.”

                I know what it is like now. It isn’t what she described there. And if she wants to make that claim, she ought to be able to back it up. She hasn’t.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @kazzy What you said in the comment I replied to was:
                “I still await links to support your claims that schools suspend chldren for having the wrong opinion.”

                That’s basically like flashing a librarian equivalent of the bat signal, my friend. I did my best to find something that more or less answered your stated information need. I didn’t try very hard b/c it’s not my argument, but I was doing the same thing I usually do when not actually being paid to librarianate which is “give them enough to *start* from at least”.

                I may also have been a little annoyed that I can’t get any elbow room to have a conversation about what is and isn’t appropriate community behavior without someone pouncing in, but I was trying to hold that part in check. Sometimes it’s really hard to know when to and when not to put the “Moderator” tag on something, particularly when I’m not trying to threaten someone with any immediate consequences.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I’m not sure I follow the second part. And, yes, you offered a response to my initial query which I realized afterwards I had frame incorrectly.

                Michelle is making strong claims about my field — claims I see no basis in — and asking her to justify those claims seems wholly reasonable. She can opt not to but she can’t also claim she’s backed up every claim with links; she hasn’t.Report

              • Oh, it happens all the time. Most of the time, happily, the resulting fuss forces the school to walk it back–or they’ll come up with other reasons they suspended the student. So, for example, the kid in Maribou’s story was technically suspended for something else. Or the kids who posted Instagram pictures of themselves at firearms training got suspended for five days but then a lawyer forced the district to erase the records. Or the kids in California who were forced to remove their American flag bandanas on Cinco De Mayo. They lost in federal court. Schools have a lot of leeway to ban clothing, which is really just another way of banning opinions. I don’t know if a student even dares to wear a MAGA hat in California.

                The nice thing about suspensions is they can be wiped off the record. So making a fuss is helpful. It’s quite hard to expel.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Michele Kerr: Schools have a lot of leeway to ban clothing, which is really just another way of banning opinions.

                It’s really easy for a non-teacher to Monday-morning-quarterback school policy on these things. Banning types of clothing has nothing to with banning opinions, and the courts have ruled on that.

                In Tinker vs Des Moines it was established that students do not shed their rights at the steps of the school house. That was, on the surface, based on the wearing of arm bands to protest the Vietnam War. However the court also held that not all free speech is permissible within the school building. Specifically expression, which includes clothing, that poses actual threats or disruptions can be banned by a school.

                And that makes sense. If you’re shouting non-sense about 9/11 being an inside job, or how all Muslims are terrorists set to infiltrate our country and impose Sharia law, I can leave. I can stop commenting on your blog, or I can walk away from you in the village square. I can ask the head waiter for a different table or I can just settle my bill and go. I have options.

                In the school I don’t have that. As a student I’m forced to sit there, perhaps next to you, while you spout racism, sexism, and hate. I’m forced to remain there while you question if I should be allowed to exist or even the sincerity of who I find attractive. As such, my learning is directly affected and my right to an education (which is enshrined in Michigan’s constitution as it is some others) is undermined. At the least I don’t have the freedom of liberty to counter your freedom of speech.

                So the school can, and must, set guidelines for speech in the school because other rights are already limited.

                Would a MAGA hat be considered disruptive? I’m not sure. I’ve been able to teach while kids have flashed their Pro-Trump clothing. I’ve even managed to teach while a kid described his Halloween Costume as “Lib-tard” because he was wearing a pro-Hillary shirt. I don’t know if any students were offended enough to be unable to learn; none complained to me at any rate. Perhaps they feared they wouldn’t be taken seriously, like you accuse those who don’t feel “safe” wearing a MAGA hat to school.

                But at the end of the day, you mischaracterize the role of the dress code and code of conduct by way student expression.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @a-teacher
                “It’s really easy for a non-teacher to Monday-morning-quarterback school policy on these things.”
                You know Michele Kerr is a teacher, right? So why would you bring this up?Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Michele Kerr: Or the kids in California who were forced to remove their American flag bandanas on Cinco De Mayo.They lost in federal court.

                I apologize for replying twice. I did a little digging and I think this is important to note:

                The above quote is false.

                https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/school-bans-u-s-flag-t-shirts-cinco-de-mayo/

                Some key quotes from the Snopes posting:

                Citing past clashes between Mexican American and Anglo students over their clothing on the Mexican holiday, Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware of San Francisco said school officials “reasonably forecast that (the shirts) could cause a substantial disruption” and were entitled to take steps to prevent it.While the Supreme Court has ruled that public school students have the right to engage in nondisruptive free speech, that ruling “does not require that school officials wait until disruption occurs before they act,” Ware said in his ruling dismissing the students’ lawsuit.

                The dismissal was upheld at the next court:

                The panel held that school officials did not violate the students’ rights to freedom of expression, due process, or equal protection. The panel held given the history of prior events at the school, including an altercation on campus, it was reasonable for school officials to proceed as though the threat of a potentially violent disturbance was real.

                The Supreme court did not hear the case effectively stating that because school is required, the need to keep students safe is of paramount importance.Report

              • Oh, for heavens sake.

                I explicitly acknowledged that they lost in federal court. I also acknowledged that schools have a lot of leeway to ban clothing.

                And yet you come barreling in to argue I mischaracterized the issue.

                Of *course* banning clothes is a way of banning opinions, particularly when schools encourage Obama posters but ban MAGA hats or allow Mexican flags but not American flags. That they are allowed to do it doesn’t change the fact that students can be suspended for expressing opinions.

                And Kazzy asked me to give examples because he or she doubted that *any* such suspensions were possible. So give this tediousness a rest. And figure anyone talking about this issue is aware of Tinker.Report

              • You apparently didn’t understand the words, “They lost in federal court.” You quoted them, but apparently the meaning was not apparent.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                With all due respect I misunderstood you.

                I read your “They lost” as “the school lost”.

                I read your “Schools have a lot of leeway” as “schools take liberties that they shouldn’t.”

                The courts have upheld the right for people to not be threatened at school which is something, based on your arguments thus far, I’m not sure you think is right or wrong, so I apologize for my misunderstanding of your pronoun assignments.

                As for having opinions? No, you’re still lacking examples of students being “Expelled” (not suspended) for “having the wrong opinions”.

                I’m not even sure that I share your assumption that having an opinion (such as to say “Gays are going to hell”) is the same as expressing that opinion in a school (such as to announce that to a class during History).

                As for assumptions that everyone knows Tinker vs Des Moines? I think we’ve established that assumptions are dangerous things here.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                You said:
                “Today, an exemplary student can be expelled for the wrong opinions, or a schools interpretation of that opinion can be entered into permanent records that are far more final than they used to be.

                If you think it’s the same as it used to be, you have no idea what it’s like now.””

                So, you were discussing expulsions, not suspensions.

                I work in schools. Have my whole career (12+ years). My mom is a life long teacher. So, again, tell me how I have no idea what it’s like now.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Teachers are also human and have biases and blind spots and weaknesses. One person’s “bullying” may be another “kids being kids” meaning OF COURSE they aren’t allowing kids to be bullied, they’re just letting kids be kids!Report

            • Avatar Maribou says:

              @kazzy This is true. But were I to tell you of the instances I’m talking about (I don’t have the energy for that today), I think you would agree that they are not instances of “kids being kids”. We’re not talking about some cheerful jockeying for position, here.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                My apologies, @maribou . That was the opposite of my point but I was unclear.

                What I mean is that a teacher may look at very real instances of bullying, know that they are happening, but not classify them as bullying and therefore not respond.

                Some things slip under the radar. Some things are known but misunderstood. Both are problems.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            I was bullied, a lot, and the teachers weren’t clueless, they were powerless to intervene unless it happened right in front of them.Report

            • Avatar Maribou says:

              @oscar-gordon I also saw those situations. But there were situations where it was obviously happening (and we’re talking regular physical violence and namecalling here), there were things the teachers could have done, and instead they celebrated the bulliers and/or looked the other way. You know, when they weren’t bullying children themselves, as per my other examples.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Aside from one PE teacher, most of my teachers wanted to do something, but were very constrained (the PE teacher couldn’t be bothered to care).Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @oscar-gordon The PE teacher in my case was the one who most celebrated the bullies. (#notallPEteachers #definitelythatonethough)Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Fittingly enough, the PE teacher who was most proactive about bullying was the lesbian PE teacher. She didn’t tolerate it and had no trouble making bullies run laps or do push-ups. I only had her for a year, but given how I just got done with three years of Mr. Apathy, it was refreshing.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                @maribou

                Have you read* “About a Boy”? There’s a scene wherein the main character is new to a school and getting bullied. The initial instance happens right in front of the teacher and when he looks to her to see her reaction, he notes how scared and young she herself looks and recognizes it as a pivotal moment for her with the class. Ultimately, she laughs along with the bullies, seeming to ally herself with them rather than draw their scorn onto her. If memory serves, the boy understood her choice and if anything empathized a bit even if he was mortified by his own treatment.

                It was an interesting take on the humanity of teachers and yet, as an educator and advocate for children, I was nonetheless disgusted by the teacher’s behavior… who placed her own humanity above those of her charges. I was not as sympathetic as the victim himself was.

                * I think this scene was also in the movie but I’m not sure it explored the motivation as thoroughly.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                I haven’t read it, keep meaning to since I have a love for some of Hornby’s other work.

                I had a lot of empathy for my teachers (even the PE teacher I mentioned), and even for my bullies … too much, actually, because it kept me from trying to change the situation in ways that would have harmed them. Instead I just took it, and let my friends take it as well. And I sort of saw that behavior as something bullies were just allowed to do (I mean, why wouldn’t I? Everyone let them do it.)

                Around about 11th grade my perspective changed a bit, and while I still wasn’t quite brave enough to take on some of the worst stuff (including the weekly-or-more-beatdowns of two of my friends in gym class locker rooms, that the PE teacher thought was just fine, “healthy horseplay,” (he knew better and I *KNOW* he knew better) – it was actually rank homophobia and a group assault on a weekly basis) …. I did start to fight against it where I could. Eventually I made (in-school) friends with one of the worst bullies in the school (also a drug dealer) – not as bad as some of the rich kid bullies, but they were less human/approachable – and started telling off him and his minions for their behavior… since he thought I was brave and funny, he let me get away with a lot, and some stuff changed. Like senior guys no longer loitered around water fountains loudly discussing the sexual attributes of any tenth grade girl who happened to walk by. But that was my big victory, and I almost got in trouble with admin in the middle of fixing it (someone in charge heard me tell a guy, “Fuck Off,” when they magically hadn’t heard the sexualized discussion he was leading, LOUDLY, three seconds earlier…).

                It’s rather disheartening to look back on. The system I went through was fished. And when I talk to my friends, most (not all) of their systems were fished too…Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                The book is a great read in so many ways, in part because of a rather nuanced look at childhood (the kids are middle-school aged) and during a time period that will likely feel familiar (even if in England).Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @kazzy The funny thing about being Canadian is that UK books are often just as familiar in their setting as American ones…. I really grew up of both worlds and neither when it comes to those two countries :D.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      Flip it on it’s head. What happens if the teacher thinks transgender kids are abominations and the administration is at best apathetic about it?Report

      • Avatar A Teacher says:

        Oscar Gordon: Flip it on it’s head.What happens if the teacher thinks transgender kids are abominations and the administration is at best apathetic about it?

        I suppose this is where the “School Choice” supporters find their reddest meat. Don’t like the way the school treats your kid? Shop around for a better option.

        Though, frankly, THAT issue requires an entirely new article to kick off an entirely new discussion.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          That ignores my point, which is that one should be careful of the doors one wants opened, because not everyone is going to use that access in ways agreeable to you. A lot of your discussion seems to assume that taking a political approach to a class discipline issue is something that will work out to your approval in all cases.

          I remember learning biology in middle and high school from two men who openly bristled at the fact that they had to teach evolution and couldn’t evangelize to us all. I shudder to think about what those classes would be like if those teachers were able to be more openly political about the issue.

          So I agree with Michelle, you deal with it as a basic decency and respect issue, and set the political aside.Report

      • Doesn’t matter in the slightest what the teacher thinks, provided it’s not detectable in his or her behavior.

        So if what you mean is the teacher treats transgender kids badly and the administration is apathetic about it, the district will probably face a lawsuit.

        If instead, the district just won’t jump through every hoop the parents and kid wants, then yeah, maybe another school is better.Report

  21. Avatar Aaron David says:

    Each of these stories is somewhat similar in that, when a rhetorical device leaves its home and becomes “weaponized,” or perhaps reified, it loses any nuance or even specificity it might have had. It is entirely unpacked, that is, its users no longer know, or even care, what it is that they’re using and why it does what they’re using it to do. The social categories become essentialized: you are either privileged or you are not, and whether you are indicates something fairly central and immutable about you. Critical concepts become entirely pragmatic, equally unpacked but maintaining their sharp edges: tools designed to “emancipate the public from prematurely naturalized objectified facts” are now just as easily, and in fact much, much more effectively, used to “[fool] the public by obscuring the certainty of a closed argument.”
    There is of course no way to stop this: it is human nature to appropriate the effective and simple for one’s own purposes, and the power of language comes from its lack of a fixed meaning (arbitrary signs, and all that stuff Saussure talked about). Reification and essentialism are parts of our innate toolbox as well, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. And then these signs become cultural signs, with a social meaning, as well, which makes using them almost a form of incantation. And as always, the internet amplifies these human, all too human habits of ours.

    Chris (OT commentator, philosopher, and general Bon Vivant.

    I noticed this comment in one of the old threads that @jaybird linked too above. I think it perfectly encapsulates “privilege” as it is used now, with the caveat that one of its essential failings is the absorption of it by one, and only one, branch of politics. Because, philosophically it is in disagreement with the tenets of other philosophies, being an aspect of communalism.Report

    • Avatar InMD says:

      That pretty much sums it up. The theories around privilege always struck me as an attempt to jargonize/way over complicate the old quip about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. To me that quip is valuable, and it’s something any serious political argument needs to account for. If you haven’t asked yourself if a position that makes sense to you might not to people who aren’t like you, and thought about why that might be, well, you’ve probably still got some homework to do. Maybe even a lot of it.

      But that’s not really what anyone is talking about when the term comes up in common parlance. It’s just another way of one person telling another to ‘capitulate,’ and a very lazy way of doing so at that.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        Well, it’s also like saying fish don’t notice water.

        I, as a middle class white guy, do not routinely get harassed by cops while driving. I do not get pulled over, routinely, for no reason– yet a friend of mine, who makes a hell of a lot more than me (and, sucks to be him, has to wear a suit to work) gets pulled over a lot for what amounts to “being black while driving a nice car”.

        So in this case, privilege had me pretty damn blind to what cops routinely do. Whereas riding with this guy on a road trip opened my eyes pretty damn quick.

        I didn’t think I was privileged because cops didn’t pull me over to hassle me because I was driving a nice car. I mean, why would cops do that? They’re busy busting guys doing 15 or 20 over the limit, or driving erratically or drunk, or crap like that. Anyone I saw pulled over was certainly pulled over for the same things I would be — speeding, you know?

        I know a guy with a heavy Native American background (and he looks it), contractor who makes seriously good money (he’s a hot shot coder). There are states he will drive around rather than pass through, because he can’t go more than an hour without being pulled over. Why? Nice, fancy, expensive truck. Not the sort of thing a Native American should be driving, so clearly there’s something nefarious at work.

        And him talking about it — that’s just life. That’s how it is.

        But…it’s not for me. Because I’m white in America. And that’s pretty messed up, and there damn well should be a term for it.Report

        • Avatar DavidTC says:

          I, as a middle class white guy, do not routinely get harassed by cops while driving. I do not get pulled over, routinely, for no reason– yet a friend of mine, who makes a hell of a lot more than me (and, sucks to be him, has to wear a suit to work) gets pulled over a lot for what amounts to “being black while driving a nice car”.

          I always found it funny that I, as a white guy, basically once got pulled over because of the opposite…I basically got pulled over because I was driving a crappy and unwashed (I lived on a dirty road, the car was unwashed by definition.) car down a major meth artery in the middle of the day. So not only can black guys not drive nice cars, but white guys apparently can’t drive crappy ones!

          I kid, I kid. I know it’s not comparable.

          Weirdly, the cop immediately decided I wasn’t a drug runner very shortly after he came up to my car. I’m not sure if it was my local license, my local theatre shirt (Which he commented on), or maybe the fact I had all my teeth?

          (It’s weird because, if _I_ had been a cop that jumped to conclusions based on stereotypes, I would have thought ‘Guy wearing a theatre show shirt with long hair? He’s a hippy. He’s probably got some pot in the car.’. But whatever. Perhaps he was only looking for meth.)

          And just as weirdly, I know all this because he _told_ me all that, to explain why he pulled me over for ‘weaving’. Seriously, he was completely honest that he pulled me over for no real reason except he thought I might be running drugs, and I laughed and told him to have fun searching my car, which he did rather half-heartedly.

          And then, because my car actually was as crappy as it looked, I had to get a jump off him to continue down the road.

          It was a weird day. And probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere near as well if I hadn’t been white.Report

      • Avatar A Teacher says:

        InMD:

        But that’s not really what anyone is talking about when the term comes up in common parlance.It’s just another way of one person telling another to ‘capitulate,’ and a very lazy way of doing so at that.

        I think a LOT of that comes down to who you talk to and why.

        We’ve had a ton of training lately on this issue and I remember the first time the phrase “you have privilege” was used. Didn’t go well.

        But over time, the more you delve into the nature of identity and look at yourself as complex, the more you can see it’s just a word to describe something we observe: Ease of Access. Such as commented by @morat20 when talking about his friend: the ease with which one can drive through some areas and not be suspected of a crime based on their appearance.

        I’m not ready to discount the value of the term if it’s used to really have a conversation rather than to silence it.Report

        • Avatar InMD says:

          Maybe groups of like-minded academics can have good conversations about it. I also can’t discount the possibility that, like in Morat’s example, it’s something that people with a good friendship might use to discuss different life experiences. I wouldn’t but I’m not bothered that some people might.

          But for me it’s something that is so imprecise and also loaded, that, outside of a whole lot of context someone has worked to establish, it’s best ignored. My experience is that the term is a percieved trump card for people too lazy to take on an argument, or a prop for tribal virtue signaling. This is especially when it comes up between people at arms length (like online), where it relies on its own set of stereotypes and assumptions about individuals based on broad stroke generalizations and just so stories. Obviously experiences differ but I see it leading to the kinds of discussions I find profoundly uninteresting, not least because I think they tend to be so self serving or bias-affirming for the participants.Report

  22. Avatar atomickristin says:

    Great piece! One of the best I’ve ever read here. 🙂Report

  1. April 22, 2018

    […] When Schools Get Political, What Should Teachers Do? An expression of values. But whose? By Michele Kerr […]Report

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