Friday, July 4, 2008

Oh Beautiful, for Spacious Skies...

Forgive me if this sounds too schmaltzy, but I exercise my patriotism most through teaching in America’s public education system. “Free [equitable] education for all” is one heck of a goal, and by participating in its execution, I feel I am contributing to the democracy. No, really!

Sometimes it keeps me up at night. When I watch the news and see a national poll that makes my eyes cross or catch a late night comedian laughing at “man on the street” interviews where people don’t know who is Secretary of State, I think to myself, “Time to get crackin’!” When I consider with a shudder just who might make up a “jury of my peers,” I draw comfort from the fact that I wield direct influence on the developing thinking and empathy of the general citizenry. No, I know I’m just one teacher in a single classroom of a huge nation, but I feel like I’m doing my part to sustain a Constitution and a three branch government whose design always stuns me and fills me with national pride.

Once during a conversation with a long-time friend who serves our nation as a Marine, I spoke sheepishly about how his service to our country humbled me. In part because he’s a gracious person and I hope in part because it’s true, he told me that he thought my service as a teacher related integrally to his. “Many of my young Marines have only a high school education, Kate,” he said. “I send them on reconnaissance missions, and they write down what they observe. More often than I’d like, the reports contain misplaced modifiers and confusing construction to the degree that I need to send out another group, putting more people at risk, because I cannot determine from the report what they observed. It makes a big difference when these kids can write.” Now, I realize I’m pre-disposed to believe strong writing and excellent grammar can foster world peace and harmony, so it’s not surprising that I felt moved by my friend’s perspective. I do not equate public school teaching with military service, but I hadn’t considered before this conversation how my work could have a ripple effect all the way to Iraq.

Teaching the everyday, ordinary citizen in the United States of America to think, read, and write critically impacts every facet of our democracy. Our democracy bases itself on trust in the public, and education for all prepares the public for that responsibility. When we teachers work actively to improve our schools, to raise standards, and to teach our students, especially those students not moving directly into further formal education, we secure the future of our nation. It might sound overly dramatic and self-aggrandizing to some people, but I really think the work of us teachers holds such power. On this Fourth of July, I encourage all my fellow teachers to take pride in their contribution to our nation as we celebrate this brave, wild experiment called the United States of America.

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

1 comment:

Writing Right said...

Thanks for this perspective!