Simply put, there exist some famous pairs that when mentioning one you must mention the other. Think of peanut butter and jelly, R2-D2 and C3PO, Ernie and Bert, Wardolf and Statler. There’s eggs and bacon, cookies and milk, Itchy and Scratchy, and Moonpies and RC Cola.
Here in North Carolina, one cannot keep public education and politics from colliding in the same conversation. With a huge election upon us and a focus on public education, to make these two mutually exclusive is like acting as if one does not exist at all while talking about the other.
They are a pair.
In March of 2015, a bill was (SB480) introduced by Senators Wells, Brock, Wade, and Soucek called the Uniform Political Activity/Employees Bill that would limit political activity by school employees, supposedly while they were on the job. However, the language was vague enough to allow some to interpret it as not allowing teachers to speak out on any subject that could be perceived as having a political bent or having any link to politics.
Wear Red for Ed? That might be a criminal offense in some interpretations of this bill. But how could a teacher not be political when talking about his or her job and job conditions in this particular political atmosphere in North Carolina?
How could I teach AP English Language and Composition, which is a rhetoric and argumentation course, without talking about politics? The GOP debates in the primaries could literally carry the class when it comes to instructing on effective and ineffective ways to argue.
While bill is not law (yet), it does bring up some insight about the power of teachers’ voices.
Almost two years ago, I wrote an op-ed about the power of teacher voices for the Winston-Salem Journal. In it I said,
“North Carolina has 100 counties, each with a county public school system. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Dept. of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of them—and the largest employer, period, in 66. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system. And they are strong in numbers. “
I can see how one would not want teachers to spout out personal political dogma to students. That’s not our job. But we do have a duty to advocate for our students and when that advocating comes in the form of dialogue with politicians, then it might be perceived as political.
Today, I was visited by Bill McNeill from WXII, the NBC affiliate of the Piedmont Triad. He specifically came by to talk about a post from this blog and how it was picked up by The Washington Post’s “The Answer Sheet”.
And he asked the question about whether what I was writing about was political in nature. Take a look for yourself in the video link below.
Whether if I said those things in a meeting at school would be an offense in the way SB480 was worded is up for interpretation, but it’s not law right now.
However, I did officially “sign out” of school for an entire 90 period to take personal leave in order to do the interview. I was not being paid for my job while being interviewed. The camera man did take some shots of me teaching after the fact.
The interview itself took 20 minutes at most. I gave 70 minutes of my time back to the school system for free, I guess.
And that’s not unusual. I give multiple 70 blocks of time to the public school system on a weekly basis outside of my contracted time. Most every teacher does. Shoot, think of coaches for high school sports.
Please remember that in November.