On my 18th birthday, I practically sprinted to the school library to register to vote. I don’t think I was really as excited about the democratic process as I was about the right of passage it marked. It happened to be just a few months before a presidential election, and all of a sudden I started to notice the ads and the news stories and quickly became aware of how complex voting could be.
It hasn’t gotten any easier as the years have passed, but I still feel some of the excitement I had the first time I cast my ballot. I’m sitting here today with my voters’ guide, filling out my ballot, and feeling some of the weight of responsibility that comes with being a citizen of a free nation.
There are issues and candidates on this ballot that will impact public education. How each of us chooses to vote will say a lot about what we think of public education, and what we hope it will become. It’s causing me to reflect not on charter schools or tax systems, so much as the big picture of what we do as educators.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the pressures of the job sometimes. Concerns about test scores, crumbling buildings, class sizes, and lack of resources are all significant issues that deserve our attention, but let’s remember what we are really doing.
When we teach our students to read, we are preparing them to pick up a voters’ guide, read it, and understand it. We are teaching them to choose information sources carefully, consider meaning, synthesize information, and read between the lines.
When we teach math, we are laying a foundation for our students to understand the relationship between taxes and spending, developing their reasoning skills, and preparing them to carefully consider the validity of statistics or poll numbers.
When we teach social studies we are helping them to understand their importance in the community and their responsibility to participate and work for the good of all.
In science we teach them to test even their own assumptions and demand replicable evidence. We teach them to question, to observe, and to analyze information in all areas of life, not just when growing plants or dropping parachutes from the roof.
In writing we teach them the power of their voice, and the importance of participating in public discourse. We are teaching them to voice an opinion, to understand another’s perspective, and to bring together art and function so that ideas can be shared, critiqued, and refined.
This election season we can remember that we aren’t just teaching so that our children can pass a state test, go to college, or get a good job. We are teaching so that our nation can continue to grow.
So all you teachers out there, whatever grade, whatever subject: consider the weight of the work you are doing, and be proud of your part in the life of our nation. Oh, and please – Go Vote!