Talking Politics

The headline for this post might have turned many of you away immediately. It’s one of those established social rules: no talking about religion or politics at the dinner table. I suspect many of you believe that this should extend to other realms too. My apologies, then, for choosing to broach this topic on what is meant to be a place where I talk about matters educational and which I’m sure you may have felt was a sanctuary where you could escape from such matters.

So, why politics then?

Perhaps I should frame this conversation by pointing out that I mean to speak about a very specific topic, or should I say, individual, within politics: Bernie Sanders. Again, this may also prompt a number of you to close the tab, but that’s ok. I need to chat about this, because it’s important to me.

Now, firstly some of you may be wondering what a teacher in a little town in South Africa has to say about a politician running for presidential candidacy in the United States. You may wonder why I care, or perhaps you’re thinking, ‘What does he know?’ and that final question is exactly the point of this blog: I know rather a lot about it, actually.

Thanks to the internet, I have been able to watch a little-known senator rise through the ranks to become a feasible challenger to the candidate who seemed a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination. I have been able to listen to speeches, read transcripts, follow Periscope feeds of people at rallies, follow tweets and observe the entire process. I completed a quiz which allows one to take stances on a variety of pressing issues and then rank the issues in terms of personal importance. It took about 20 minutes to complete and in the end, I had a 93% match to Sen. Sanders. Thus, I feel very comfortable endorsing him or speaking about him, not because I am stirred by his speeches or charmed by his rhetoric, but because we share common ground on matters which are important to both of us.

Now, having read that last paragraph, remind yourself again that I am sitting in South Africa and most of the time, I have a fairly lacklustre internet connection. Nevertheless, I can find things out for myself, I can get involved as much as I’m allowed to (I’ll be honest, if I could send $27, I would) and I can form opinions. I am genuinely excited about the message Sen. Sanders is spreading, because it is, I believe, the true solution to shifting power to where it needs to be, to fixing systems which I believe have become fundamentally flawed and because, most importantly, it sends a message to the rest of the world. If the United States can bring about a shift that is so monumental, if the voices of those who have felt marginalised for so long are seen to have been heard and to have made a real change, think about how the rest of the world will respond. Even if Sen. Sanders does not become the Democratic candidate or become President of the United States, I think his campaign has sent a shockwave that has resounded not just across North America, but across the world. People are more important than they are often lead to believe.

As an educator, it is exciting for me to watch how people react to the realisation that their voice matters; that they can bring about the change they believe in. By studying social media and its ability to both distort the truth and reveal it, students can be shown the importance of being a critical consumer of information. Whether the allegations about biased news reporting are true or not, this election season has shown that where people want information to spread, they do not need the support of major news corporations to do it for them. Our students are seeing this. They are learning that they have the capacity to spread a positive message, that they can, quite literally, reach the entire world in a heartbeat.

The message this campaign has sent to the established media is also telling. Again, I do not wish to take any stance regarding my views on corporate news stations, but I want to point out that the model for spreading information is changing before our eyes. There are many, many more windows into the rest of the world than there ever were before and all of us need to pause to take stock of this. Teachers especially need to show students how to look at media objectively, to search for the facts, to find the truth when it is so often obscured. I believe that any lesson that looks at creating video cannot ignore the power perspective and camera angles have on altering the ‘reality’ the audience sees, for example. It’s also worth looking at how social media can be used to discover the less-than-flattering details about us, even if a distortion of information is necessary to achieve that goal. Students need to be mindful of what they post, and aware of how to protect themselves.

Our own classroom practices need to be microcosms of the world we want to create. Our schools need to be the communities, the ecosystems, the societies which will form the foundation for our futures. If students are given opportunities to use their voices to make positive changes in their microcosms and are then given the chance to see the impact of those changes in ‘real world’ applications, think about the impact this will have on their behaviour in the future.

All of this is exciting. Think of the opportunities we have to move beyond our classrooms, and beyond our campuses even. The world is wide open, and it’s up to us to teach our students how to look and what to look for. Furthermore, when we know the world is watching, it should have an impact on the type of content we produce.

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, thanks for staying the course. I hope it wasn’t as bad as you might have anticipated. Next time I promise I’ll talk about a matter that is less taboo, like abolishing homework, for example.

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