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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

What Politicians Teach Our Students

By Peter DeWitt — October 19, 2011 4 min read
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Over the past few decades we have seen politicians who make us proud and others who make us want to hide our heads in shame. The more we watch the news the more it seems as though our politicians are disconnected from the people who voted them into office. As many people suffer during these tough economic times, many politicians argue about who is right and point fingers at who they believe is wrong.

All of this behavior has an effect on our daily morale because we are exposed to the fighting through our 24/7 media outlets. Even on days that we turn on the radio instead of the television during our morning routine we are met with political conversations. Unfortunately, as we find ways to deal with our present circumstances and negotiate our way through the negativity, there is one segment of our population that watches this without being able to process all of the fighting...and those are our students.

There is an old rule that people need to consider when posting things on social networks and it is called Grandma’s Rule. We are told not to say anything that we would not want our grandmothers to hear. When we were children we all wanted to make our grandparents proud. Now as adults, we should want to make the children around us proud. We should want to be role models for good behavior and not the poster children for bad behavior.

What Our Students are Learning from Politicians
Our students are learning some valuable lessons from politicians these days. Unfortunately, those lessons may not be the ones we want them to learn. It’s human nature to make mistakes and learn from them, which is what we should be teaching our students.

However, it seems as though many politicians are trying to cover their mistakes, which is never a good idea when there are so many media outlets looking to find out the truth. In addition to covering mistakes, there is a great deal of finger pointing going on in our political system. When things cannot be worked out, the predecessor is blamed for all of our present woes. Although they may have contributed to our present situation, we all contributed to it as well. Let’s take some ownership and move on.

Although there are probably many politicians who are worth looking up to, the media is not necessarily doing stories on them, which is probably worthy of another blog. We are only exposed to the politicians that behave the worst. However, the following are some of the lessons our students are learning from those that are in the news.

Tell the truth later - If you lie or deny the accusation first it will provide you with the opportunity to come up with a really good explanation. Hopefully people will feel badly for you and leave you alone after they hear your excuse.

Blame others. It’s much easier - When the going gets tough blame the people who came before you because that way you won’t have to take any ownership over your present situation.

Don’t answer the tough questions - If you get asked a tough question about your beliefs, don’t answer it. It’s so much easier for people to speculate about your views than it is for you to speak up and have your views be considered worse than any speculation.

Blame Schools - When the going gets tough blame the school system. It’s always a hot button issue and the one common bond that everyone has because everyone has gone to school. There are bound to be people who hated their educational experience so they will support you.

Don’t compromise. It’s weak - Compromises are for other people. Don’t compromise because you will come off as weak and no one wants to hang out with people who are weak.

“Backstabbing” is Human Nature - Be kind and considerate when standing with your opponent. When they walk away or are not present, you can talk about how bad their ideas are and why you are a better person.

What Our Students Could Learn from Politicians
Unfortunately, there are outstanding politicians who are doing their job and give our students someone to look up to but they seem to be few and far between or news corporations just do not find them as fun to cover. All politicians need to understand that they have a powerful impact on our students.

If we truly want our students to grow up to be contributing members to society we must provide them with opportunities. In addition, if we want them to be positive contributors, then we must be role models that can teach them how to meet their goals. The following are some ways that politicians can help students meet that goal.

Integrity matters - Students need to understand that those adults running our states and country are truthful. Teaching students about honesty, even when they make mistakes is one of the best lessons they can learn.

Admit when you’re wrong - No one expects perfection and our students need to understand that everyone makes mistakes. If you make a mistake, admit that you did it, sincerely apologize for it, and move on. Covering up a mistake only prolongs the pain...for all of us.

Stand up for what is right - Speak up even when you feel you are alone. Stand up for your beliefs, even if those around you may not agree. You may change their minds or you may learn a lesson from listening to those around you. Having conversations about beliefs can lead to some great lessons.

There is strength in compromising - There are times when students need to understand that they cannot always get their way. They need to learn that there is just as much strength in compromising with those students around them. Compromising may lead to a better result.

If we truly want to change our present situation we need to help students understand that we all need to take ownership and try to make grassroots changes, focus on the positive and stop fighting. Fighting only exacerbates the issue and does not help make it better. The constant negative focus does not inspire our students to help us get out of this mess.

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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.