Saturday, May 7, 2011

DC Reflections

Flying out of DC yesterday, headed home to my mountains and lakes, with a window-side view of the grandeur of our capitol, felt bittersweet to me.

Anybody who has grown up in New Hampshire knows that politics runs in our blood.  Immersed in a frenzy of presidential hopefuls who sit in our living rooms every four years, and governed by the second largest political body in the world (our House of Representatives is second in size only to the Indian Parliament), we take politics quite seriously.  Our town meetings are well attended and our newspapers are full of editorials.  We are vocal about our beliefs and we engage in our government as a matter of principle.  So arriving in DC and walking up Capitol Hill, entering the US Department of Education, standing in front of the Supreme Court was any New Hampshire girl's dream.  It just felt so right.

On my way to the airport yesterday morning, my cab driver, a man from Ethiopia who arrived here five years ago to work with the Spanish Embassy, asked me what I thought of DC.  I told him I loved it.  I told him I loved politics.  And he grimaced.  "I hate politics," he replied.  He went on to explain.  "Politics have killed my people," he said.  "In my country, when you become politically active, you might die.  But you--you are an American.  And Americans?  They love their politics because they have a voice.  This is the only place in the world like that, you know.  There are many other countries that have democracies, but this is the only true one that represents the people."

We were driving by the Jefferson Memorial at the time--a gorgeous piece of architecture back dropped by a pristine blue, May sky.  Such hope abounds from the very buildings in Washington DC.  It is impossible to look at these structures and not be proud of who we are.  As Americans we are oftentimes bullheaded and ethnocentric; we have implemented policies worldwide that have been destructive and hurtful.  I am not proud of all of our actions.  But the very idea that I can express this dissatisfaction—that I can march into the Senate Building and plead with a Senator for whom I did not vote to consider education policy very carefully—is the essence of who we are.  We are activists.  We care passionately about the well-being of our people.  We are not passive.  And I took immeasurable pride in the cab driver’s observation.  My multilayered thank you at the end of our ride and conversation together did not feel adequate.

So as I departed DC and looked longingly back at the capitol from my airplane window, a sadness crept through my heart—I did not want to leave the heart of this nation.  I wanted to stay within its pulse.  I wanted to continue to be a voice.  And I spent a good portion of the ride contemplating a DC career.  But then the landscape began to change, and as the pilot announced there were only 10 minutes left in the flight, I looked out to see small swellings of hill that I knew would grow into the mountains at home, surrounded by splatterings of lake.  Thoughts of a weekend hike flirted with my mind. Walking through the Manchester Airport, I noticed a lack of business suits and urgent phone calls.  The quiet ambience was relaxing.  I found my car, headed north, and realized with sudden clarity that I love my home state.  I arrived at school a couple of hours later and was embraced by my students who had stories to tell and questions to ask.  They wanted to know about an assignment that is due on Monday.  They wanted to know what the president was like.  They wanted to know if I missed them.   And I did.

And I realized that while my moments in DC urged me to speak out for teachers and for the future of education, the real work to be done is right in that classroom.  I will continue to represent my colleagues, our practices, and our students in any political arena possible.  This New Hampshire girl couldn’t be told not to.  But equally important, I must be sure to instill this very drive in my students. We must raise our students to be strong, thoughtful, intelligent voices of reason.  They must be respectful of each other and the process of democracy.  They must be able to articulate their passions and support them with hard fact and not speculation.  They must be willing to march into a Senator’s office.  This very kind of instruction is part of democracy as well.  And since someday my future will rest in these children’s hands, I want to work my hardest at sending off students who will think in terms of logic rather than partisanship.  This must be our priority. 

Home again, I am enjoying the quiet solitude—all I can currently hear is the murmurings of my goat and a busy woodpecker out back.  Today I feel completely removed from the opportunities of DC, but I understand where my path must take me—right back into the classroom where the most critical work shall be done.

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