Tuesday, June 7, 2022

NH: Don't Worry, Be Happy

Teachers and parents have heard plenty about self care over the past two years. Now New Hampshire's leaders have decided to make a big fat "fix yourself" PR campaign out of it.

The whole self-care message depends a great deal on context. Self care is a good thing, a practice that everyone should follow in dealing with the stresses and pressures of life.

But when the message comes from the people who have power over that stress and pressure, it takes on a whole new meaning. That meaning is roughly, "You had better take care of your own interests and health because I'm not going to doing a damn thing about it." It comes perilously close to telling a person who's angry at your misbehavior to calm down and stop being so hysterical.

Sometimes it's part cluelessness and part deliberate obtuseness. I'm thinking here of Andrew Carnegie who told his employees that they should take the time to read and enrich their leisure time, even as he was also telling them that they would be required to work ten hours a day, seven days a week. Or Arne Duncan doubling down on the stakes for high-stakes testing, then admonishing schools that they were putting way too much emphasis on the high stakes test.

So here comes New Hampshire's Department of Education with its new 603 Moment campaign. The campaign was launched at a New Hampshire Fisher Cats ball game, where Governor Chris Sununu offered some chirpy encouragement:

"Just like the #HomeHikeChallenge from the last two years, our #603Moment initiative seeks to help New Hampshire kids, parents, and families refocus and appreciate the little things in life," Sununu said. "Let's channel these 603 Moments into positive change and renew important discussions on the importance of social and emotional health not just in our schools, but also in our communities."

Note that "seeks to help" apparently means "offer suggestions for things you can contribute to this PR campaign just in case you don't know what little things you appreciate." Frank Edelblut, homeschooling businessman-turned-politician and New Hampshire's spectacularly unqualified Education Commissioner, offered some help, pointing out that a special moment could occur "on a walk or a lunch break, or perhaps it is a peaceful reflection while visiting a favorite place, or just a few deep breaths while in the midst of chaos."

Look. I want to be clear that I am an absolute believer in self care and in cherishing all the small, beautiful moments that come along in life. Life is rich and beautiful if you take the trouble to see it. We should all absolutely cherish the good moments in our lives.

But this is not that.

This is the kind of campaign that makes me really, really want to see the meeting that spawned this. 

Did a bunch of suits at the ed department gather round and say, "You know, I think of all the problems facing our families, the big one is that the little people just don't stop appreciate that they can take deep breaths when everything is turning to poop around them." Or was it more along the lines of "What's something we could come up with that would distract people from the lousy couple of years we've had?" 

Or was it more like a boss saying, "I need some ideas for something--anything--that we could do other than actually implement better, more supportive, more human policies for teachers, parents and students." And then after some puzzled silence, somebody piped up with, "I hear all the youths are using that social media stuff. Maybe we could start some kind of happy social media thing on the interwebs." 

I also wonder if the term "toxic positivity" passed through anyone's mind. 

NH's leaders have been unrelenting in their attacks on public education. Repeated voucher-based attacks that ultimately resulted in hiding an unpopular voucher bill in the budget. Helping Betsy DeVos and Club for Growth launch a privatizing tour. Charter promotion from everyone between Christian nationalist Hillsdale College to hapless amateurs. Welcoming in privatizing micro-school business Prenda. Joining the teacher gag law parade. Encouraging their buddies to chop local school budgets to the bone. All while the news keeps telling us that US teachers are being pushed to the brink.

So maybe--just maybe-- the governor or the state and the head of the state's education department could come up with something more helpful than "Tell us about that one time you took a nice walk during your lunch break." Maybe they could craft some policies that are supportive of public education and the people who work there and the students who learn there. Maybe they could stop strip-mining public education for money to hand to education-flavored businesses. Maybe they could come up with something more useful than a hashtag.

Speaking of which, the hashtag #603Moment is not exactly burning up on the tweeter machine. There are a few staged student pics, some links to promo articles about the initiative, and then some tweets like these:

my #603moment is when Commissioner Edelblut continuously makes it known he doesn’t care about NH students or families like he thinks he does. Shameful to even have you as a representation of education in this state.

If you ever needed an example of #gaslighting or #toxicpositivity, #603moment has you covered.

My #603moment is when Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut continues to work against teachers and students for his own benefit

And, responding to Sununu's promotional post

The day you leave office #603moment.

You can play along-- just use the hashtag #603Moment. And remember to smile smile smile.

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