Monday, November 13, 2017

Political Teaching – Part I by Aaron Michael Baker


Teaching is an inherently political vocation. Every teacher, without exception, is a conduit for multiple political agendas. The Oklahoma Academic Standards (OAS) are the political agenda of the Oklahoma State Department of Education, with direct oversight from the Oklahoma Legislature. To be fair, for the most part, the OAS were created with input from actual Oklahoma teachers, but this does not negate the fact that the simple act of creating standards is fundamentally political. Standards are the way the state tells teachers, “We have made the political decisions for you.”
The state Legislature has consistently shown to not be satisfied with the political agenda provided in the OAS. State mandated testing is nothing more than a show of force, a bully pulpit. Legislators, far removed from the actual teaching and learning process, awkwardly hide their own political agenda for education in a package called “accountability.” It is interesting that those whose actual job involves the word “politic” are often the worst at the nuanced subtleties of the political game. And, yes, while remnants of altruism can always be found in politics, it is, after all, a game.
If virtually every other stakeholder in the educational process gets to be political, should not the teacher be afforded the same privilege?
Textbooks are undeniably political. As social studies teachers know quite well, when publishers claim that their political agenda is the same as the state departments, they call it “alignment.” Truth be told, standards alignment is a pathetic attempt to make two often very different political agendas appear to be the same. If virtually every other stakeholder in the educational process gets to be political, should not the teacher be afforded the same privilege?
Teachers who claim to not have a political agenda are simply peddling someone else’s. But all teachers, even those who claim to be apolitical, bring their own style, personality, gifts, and life experiences into the classroom, all of which are part and parcel to the political process. Teachers are charged with teaching the state created standards using district chosen textbooks as tools. To be perfectly clear, I adhere to and faithfully teach the Oklahoma Academic Standards for 8th Grade U.S. History to the very best of my ability. But every day I make decisions as a teacher that necessarily move beyond the scope of both standards and curriculum and are fundamentally political in nature.
There are those on both the left and the right (though mostly the right) that envision a classroom void of politics where learning occurs strictly through the accumulation of amoral facts. This kind of classroom is neither possible nor desirable. I want my students to feel something just as much as I want them to learn something.

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