Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Where Do We Go From Here? Four Years Later...

In the days after the 2016 election, I wrote a blog post titled Where Do We Go From Here?, a commentary about the runup to the election and the results.  At the time, I was very disillusioned by the negativity of the campaign in the months prior to the election and while I was not at all pleased with the results, I wrote about keeping an open mind and hoping that the Constitution's system of checks and balances would result in limiting any drastic changes to policies in the years under a Trump presidency. And while I had full intentions to write this in a more timely fashion, the developments were moving so fast that anything I wrote would have been obsolete the moment I published it, and that may still be the case! In a review of this post four years later, so much has changed, but at the same time, not much has changed at all.  

Four years under Donald Trump has made us more divided than ever.  Issues that should not be politicized, such as racial equality, scientific evidence, and denouncement of hate and domestic terror groups, have divided much of the nation into distinct camps.  Trump and his supporters have made bigots of many kinds comfortable to spew their hatred and misinformation like wildfire.  He has sown distrust for credible media sources, teachers, doctors, scientists, and essentially anybody that does not agree with his agenda.  And a pandemic that has been raging for months? Don't get me started on that...

To top it off, weeks after the elections and after the results of the election were called by major media outlets (across the political spectrum, mind you) and vote certifications underway, he refused to concede defeat and has filed lawsuits that claim rampant voter fraud without evidence, nearly all of which have been tossed out.  Supporters continued to feed into the misinformation and other leaders within the party that has the ability to denounce it have enabled him even further.  Then, the unfathomable happened: a sitting president encouraged a violent uprising in protest to the certification of the Electoral College results, leading to hundreds, even thousands, storming the Capitol in an attempted coup.  If you would have told me in January 2017 that this would have happened, I would have thought you were writing a movie script. 

As a historian, I can think of countless comparisons of leaders that did these exact kinds of things in dictatorships where misinformation, distrust, and questioning of legitimate election results have plagued nations and lead to outbreaks of violence and worldwide wars. But in the United States of America?  The nation that is supposed to be the beacon of democratic principles across the globe?  And to have an armed mob storm the Capitol, nearly without resistance, is something that you see on the news that "happens someplace else." (I recently watched both seasons of Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime and found it very chilling to watch people storming the presidential palace after a contentious election in Venezuala, events that are not true, but very realistic looking on the show.)  Whether the security for the Capitol on January 6 was that ill-prepared or in cahoots with those responsible remains to be seen, but to have it be the first time that the Capitol had been breached since the British stormed Washington, DC in the War of 1812?  I'll let you reflect on that... 

Now that President Biden's inauguration is behind us, I have been overcome with a sense of relief.  Not because things are going to change instantly and life is going to be "normal" again, but because of a lot of different reasons.  I am relieved and excited that the new president is somebody that is not going to go out of their way to be divisive in their words and actions (politically, one may not agree with him, but let's face it, Joe Biden is not going to take to Twitter to belittle people and fire them from their jobs).  I am relieved that the new president is surrounding himself with competent, intelligent people that have experience in their fields, not simply appointing friends and supporters like the spoils system of decades ago.  I am relieved that the various government agencies are working diligently to bring those responsible for the insurrection of January 6 to justice, as arrests and charges are filed on a daily basis.  And I am relieved that the problems that were brought into the open further by the previous four years can be addressed and work can begin to solve them.  

This is not going to happen overnight.  When the Allies defeated Nazi Germany in 1945, Nazism did not simply disappear.  It took years for war criminals to be brought to justice and the effects that fascism had on German society to be eradicated, but even then, it wasn't eradicated completely.  Is it fair to compare Trumpism to Nazism?  Perhaps not, it is comparing apples to oranges, but many aspects are very similar, such as the disinformation campaigns, attempting to ignore legitimate elections, and the refusal to denounce xenophobia, racism, and white nationalism in the ranks of supporters.  And this is not to compare all Trump supporters to those groups, but this country has, for far too long, ignored problems in the name of supporting a party or ideology, i.e. supporting law enforcement but turning a blind eye to systemic racism in policing. 

And what does this mean for education?  For starters, an educator, Miguel Cardona, will be leading the Department of Education, not a billionaire hellbent on destroying public education and helping for-profit schools line their pockets.  There has already been discussion of forgiving student loan debt to help people get out of that debt and stimulate the economy (imagine where people that normally spend $500/month on student loans can put that money!), but with slim majorities in the House and Senate, it may be tough to pass large scale forgiveness.  But perhaps the most important aspect of turning the page?  It is even more apparent how important educators' jobs are to help mold informed citizens.  Even after Biden's inauguration, there is still a large percentage of people that feel that the election was stolen and rigged, all because they were fed lies by the president and relied on QAnon and far-right "media" sources for their information.  Teaching students how to analyze sources and determine if a source has a credible reputation (ex. Associated Press, Reuters, etc.) is going to be the catalyst moving forward for limiting disinformation from our lives.  

As I mentioned, I was not excited for a Trump presidency in late 2016 and 2017.  I kept an open mind but was sorely disappointed in those four years.  And while I do not expect Joe Biden to be a miracle worker that will go down as the greatest president of all time, I do have hope for the next four years simply based on common decency and the decisions that he has made leading up to the start of his term, most notably, naming Kamala Harris the first-ever female vice president!  We may not agree politically, but I look forward to the coming weeks of productive discourse without fear of reprimand from the Oval Office's personal Twitter account.  

Until next time... 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

#OneWord2021: Commit

The air was crisp, deceiving considering the bright sunshine and the wide blue skies.  A slight but steady breeze cut into me, forcing me to zip up my sweatshirt and pull the hood up over my ears.  The only sound was the crunch of rocks beneath my feet. I strained to hear other sounds, hoping for something out of the ordinary, after all, this was a ghost town.  Even though I couldn't hear anything, another strange sensation overcame me; it was almost as if I could feel the presence of those that were here before me, over a hundred years prior.  

Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley National Park
I had been to Rhyolite before, but this was the first time that I truly had the opportunity to explore the ruins of the former gold mining town.  Located about 120 miles from Las Vegas, Rhyolite was a boomtown in the early 1900s after gold was discovered but quickly depleted.  A town that is estimated to have been as large as 8,000 people disappeared by 1920.  A quiet New Year's Day walk around what was left of Rhyolite was a great way to kick off 2021, followed shortly by a drive to Death Valley and a handful of short hikes along Artist's Drive, Devil's Golf Course, and the salt flats of Badwater Basin.  The day was a great way to continue my daily exercise routine, marking 43 days in a row of getting outside, mainly walking 3-5 miles a day.  

After the turmoil of 2020 and everything that came with it, it would be very easy to go through the motions or even give up on things.  And in all honesty, I did that with many aspects of my life, personally and professionally.  As remote teaching and learning, or more appropriately, emergency teaching and learning, progressed in the spring, it became harder and harder each day to commit myself 100% to my craft.  After a strong start to getting outside and walking or riding my bike in the spring, I made more excuses that I made commitments to stick to the routine, especially after my move and the heat of the Mojave Desert intensified in the summer months.  Rather than writing and reflecting on a regular basis, I got away from this blog for weeks at a time, did not interact as much on social media, and spent less time participating in professional development (I even spent money on a virtual conference that I DID NOT attend because I simply "did not feel like it").  

As the calendar approached the new year, I began to think about goals for 2021 and a return to One Word.  For reasons that I cannot quite pinpoint or remember, I did not choose a word for 2020 and did not write a blog looking ahead to 2020.  The closest I came to any sort of looking ahead was refusing to predict the future in my end of the year reflection piece from late 2019, The Closing of a Decade: 2010-2019. I am not so pompous to suggest that 2020 turned into the proverbial dumpster fire because I did not choose a word, but if you want to blame somebody, I'll fall on the sword for you.  

Circling back to the start of the new year at Rhyolite and Death Valley, I mentioned that January 1st marked 43 days in a row of exercise and getting outside.  It marked substantial commitment on my part, one that has continued through this writing.  Even when I was younger and playing sports, including four years of football in college, I don't think I had ever exercised that many days in a row.  Rest days were rest days where I did not do anything.  That said, for 2021, I have selected COMMIT as my One Word.  Basically, I want to own the things I say and the commitments that I make and follow through each and every time.  But it's more than just a continuation of my exercise streak:

  1. Take my streak one day at a time.  I am not committing to 365 straight days of exercise, but each morning, I can commit to working out that day.  Even if it is just a short walk, a short walk is better than not getting off of the couch at all!  I know that at one point, the streak will end, but as long as I am physically able to continue my streak, I will do it!
  2. I have struggled with my weight for a long time.  I have always been big, but at least in high school and college, I was more fit and toned.  My wake-up call came on Sunday, January 3 when I stepped on the scale for the first time in probably eight months.  For the first time in my life, I weighed in at over 300 pounds.  No matter my muscle mass and excuses that I have made in that regard, that kind of weight is not healthy for a person with a family history like mine.  And while I have a goal weight in mind, like my exercise commitment, I am committing myself to one day at a time of eating better, making better choices, and holding myself accountable to make a permanent change to my weight and my health.  
  3. 2020 has brought to light issues that have always been there and have needed to be addressed for hundreds of years: equality for all and educational equity.  I will be the first to admit as a white male that I have a lot to learn and more that I can do to become an antiracist educator and advocate for educational equity.  I am committing myself to learn more, not shy away from tough conversations, and be more of an ally for all that are unfairly disadvantaged.  
  4. In 2020, I applied for the Google Innovator Academy and unfortunately, was rejected.  While I believe that my initial application included a solid idea, I know that there are thousands of people that also have solid ideas, and competition for that coveted Innovator certification is fierce.  I am committing myself to evaluate my ideas, polish the application, and hopefully, earn the opportunity to participate in the Innovator Academy in 2021.  
  5. Lastly, the first half of the 2020-2021 school year was a tough one, completely online.  And while we are starting the new semester virtually once again, regardless of how the remainder of the school year and beyond plays out, I commit to being the best educator that I can be for each one of my students, their families, and my colleagues.  
What is your One Word for 2021?  What goals do you have for this year?  How do you intend to meet your goals?  What do you perceive as possible barriers to achieving your goals?  Think about it...

Until next time...