Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Political Theater and Reality

Tuesday presented an interesting juxtaposition of events.

It began with news of the death of Pete Seeger. Stuck at home for a Polar Vortex Day, I sat and watched clips, everything from interviews to original Weavers clips to the video he made for Amnesty International at age 92. I reread accounts of his life-- living in a house he built with his wife of about 70 years, his blacklisting, his travels with Woody Guthrie, his stand on so many issues. I watched him sing, head tilted back, eyes on... something. Something bigger than himself. And I got choked up, moved by this man who absolutely lived his life and his art as if they were the same thing, who lived with integrity and honesty. I may not have agreed with everything he ever said or did, but damn-- the man absolutely fearlessly lived out his truth.

But as the day wore on, Seeger was pushed out of the cyber world by anticipation of the State of the Union address. If there is a more inauthentic, calculated piece of political theater outside of campaign events, I can't think of it. People spent the day on line speculating and agitating for what issues and elements POTUS might name drop in the SOTU, and at the end of the day of speculation, he gave education a side swiped batch of pointless sidestepping and spin. I didn't watch it, and I wasn't sorry. You can read two fine reactions to it; one by Chris Geurrierri and the other by Valerie Strauss. You can get the gist there. If the SOTU told us anything at all, it told us that no magical fairies visited POTUS during the night to make him understand how messed up his education policies are.

It was empty rhetoric, a fine example of how politicians have become accustomed to controlling the conversation, the audience, the setting, and the rhetoric, leading to the mistaken assumption that all of that equals controlling the audience. My biggest fear about the SOTU is the President Obama believes in his heart that he really accomplished something, that teachers and students are sitting out there thinking, "Well, that's mighty fine. He has my full support now." It's one thing when people pee on us and tell us it's raining; it's somehow worse when they think we believe them.

But not too far away from DC, another politician was having a more authentic experience. Cami Anderson did everything she could to keep the parents and teachers of Newark in line-- small meeting location, make them wait outside, control the agenda. But like John King and his New York Victory Lap of Common Core Wait What No I'm Not Going Back Out There Tour, Cami discovered that when people are authentically outraged, political theater and stage tricks will not keep them in line. She had a no good, very bad, terrible evening.

And like many politicians and reformers before her, she was not just surprised, but really offended that people were not well-behaved enough to stay in their place. It's particularly ironic that a personal barb appears to have been her breaking point, as if her actions and statements have not been personal attacks on the personal families of Newark persons.

And so she stomped out.

We are so steeped in the fake in this country, that our leaders have become focused on crafting fake events instead of dealing with real people, and when they have to deal with real people, they literally do not know how to cope.

And yet, part of the lesson of Pete Seeger is that authentic lives, lives in truth and integrity, create real beauty, perhaps the only kind of real beauty that ever exists. To hide from truth is to hide from what is true and beautiful and awesomely human. It's focusing on creating and controlling a completely artificial relationship and experience that is at the cold and lifeless heart of CCSS and reform.

The State of the Union address was one of the least important things to happen yesterday. Give me more Pete Seeger. Give me more Newark parents. Give me less political theater, especially when it comes to education.

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