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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

I Support Education

By Peter DeWitt — July 18, 2012 4 min read
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A local guy running for political office showed up to my door the other day and said that he supported education. In his defense, he did not know that I am a school principal. He also did not know that many of us have experienced millions of dollars in budget cuts. Nor did he know that I have had to lay off teachers and have watched students leave to go to private school or homeschool because their parents were concerned over high stakes testing and our changing education system. He merely showed up to the door and said his name and that he supports education.

Unfortunately, he could not tell me in which ways he did support it. He said that property taxes are too high, which I completely understand, and he gave examples of different towns that could support tax hikes. I told him how the school district in that town cut 3 million dollars from their budget and laid off over 20 teachers. It’s not that I believe anyone can afford higher taxes; just that even the “affluent” district he mentioned couldn’t afford them either.

I tried to give him the opportunity but he seemed surprised that he was at the door of an educator. The person accompanying him stepped back a bit and didn’t engage in the conversation. On the other side of the door I stood, surprised by my reaction to this guy showing up telling me he supported education. I was surprised that I asked him for his advice on education funding and surprised that I put him on the spot because normally I usually listen politely, take their propaganda, say good luck and close the door. It’s great that in 2012 politicians, or those who want to be one, still walk door to door.

Then it occurred to me, he rang my doorbell. He told me that he supported education but could not tell me how he supported it. I was minding my own business eating dinner as he decided to mention one of the topics that I am passionate about. Perhaps it was my opportunity to hear back from a guy who will in the future ignore my e-mails and calls when I ask him for help.

Getting Political
For full disclosure, I never liked politics. It was a topic that made me nervous and almost uncomfortable. I respect everyone’s beliefs, no matter what side of the political spectrum they may stand. People live different lives and belief different things and that is what is great about our society. We have the freedom to believe they way we want. However, something inside me is changing, perhaps because I see that our decisions affect kids.

I have a strong belief that we deserve more than a guy who shows up saying he supports education. As a voter, I deserve a person who can tell me how he will support it; even if that means that he disagrees with my beliefs. Over the years, I have seen a plethora of politicians stand up on their bully pulpits to state how education is failing and I want to hear from those who can tell me how we will change that together.

In this era of accountability it is important that we get politicians in office who understand the issues of their constituency. They should not just be coming to our door during the election or to get signatures to be considered for the election. They should be coming to our doors after they get elected or perhaps even sending out surveys asking for our input. We need more than talk.

There is no better way to teach our students about civic duty than providing them with politicians that they can look up to and learn from. Being a public servant is both give and take. Politicians should not be offering the give before they are elected and then taking after they are in office. A public servant means that one should be connected with their public before and after the election.

Unfortunately, the evening he showed up to my door, he could not answer my questions. It’s not because he is a bad guy and it is not because I was asking him questions that he could not answer. When one says they support education as their opening line, they should be able to state the ways that they do so. Anything else just seems like a line.

In the End
Perhaps I was taking my frustration out on a poor unsuspecting guy who has very little to do with the issues we face in education. However, too many of us open the door when politicians come around and take their literature, put it on our dining room tables and forget to read it because life gets busy. We go to the polls and vote for people that we do not always know enough about. We do it because we either feel that things will never change or that politicians can’t really do all that much damage. We are now in an era where we know they can. We need to be more informed and we need to expect more out of the people we vote for because our students will suffer the consequences if we don’t.

In the long run he may support education but I want to know how he will stand up for it. How does he feel about high stakes testing or accountability? How does he feel education should be funded? In what ways can we better teach 21st century skills? Are competitive grants the best way to offer school districts new funding that they can’t get anywhere else because of budget cuts?

Many people, including those who are educators, want more out of the school experience they offer to students. They work hard to find innovative ways to educate students. Just like those of us who want more out of education, we should also want more out of our politicians. They are the ones who have the voice, or rather are supposed to have the voice for all of us, and I want to know what they mean when they show up to the door and say they support education.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.