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Shelbye Brady


It is conference week in many schools. Progress is all that has been on the minds of my sixth and seventh graders for the past week. Not academic progress, but the progress of our political situation. I teach in a school that is deeply rooted in community. Families that send kids to my school work blue collar jobs. The same economic demographics, the same sense of hard work and community that is common where I come from in Hobson, Montana. This is the sort of community where if there is a fire, everyone donates; parents buy books from the local book fair for students who have less, and the churches throw a potluck for Thanksgiving.

The difference is some of my students speak languages that you have never heard of.

Their cultures and ethnicities interweave with American values. Some of my students live between the backseat of a Chevy with the heat cranked high in the winter, and their grandma’s couch. Some of their parents are separated from them by an ocean. Like most hard working Americans, they sacrificed everything to make sure that they had the opportunity to have a strong education and a great job.

I am concerned about the education that they are getting.

Progress is a difficult discussion to have with sixth graders and seventh graders who struggle to read. It is hard to have all the answers when the source material comes in rants of 140 characters, brags, and political digs that put middle school cyber bullying to shame. The behavior of our political system for the past two years rivals middle school fights. It is petty, theatrical, and largely based in lies.

It is not part of my job description as a reading teacher to address these issues. However, it is my duty as an educator to find teachable moments, and to help turn students into good citizens. Addressing these issues has become a clear part of that. It is not an issue of liberal or conservative. It is an issue of right and wrong.

From Kavanaugh to midterms, my 11- to 13-year-olds began to ask me questions that I was not prepared for.

“Does the president hate black people?”

“Is the president trying to bring slavery back?”

“Why do people want to kill Jews?”

“Why are people racist?”

“Is it safe to go to church?”

“Why is it OK to be racist?”

“Will they let me translate when my mom votes, or will we get arrested?”

“Why don’t people believe when women get hurt?”

“Is it true that presidents can’t go to jail?”

“Why don’t people care when kids get shot?”

It shouldn’t be the job of kids to be asking these questions. They have to because adults cannot stop being childish long enough to see that the education that we are giving them is the worst education of all.

Did you really work to educate your children to hate other children for their skin color, bully people because they don’t share your beliefs, lie if they do not like the truth or it does not fit your agenda? I know that these are the behaviors that we punish our children for.

So why are we glorifying it? Why are we participating in it? Why are we blindly standing by, as those who are supposed to lead us, divide us? Why are we letting the color of skin, or political party separate what is right and wrong?

We know, whether we are conservative or liberal that there are problems that we have faced in the past two years, from increased gun violence, to political collusion.

As I prepare for conferences, I am preparing to remind every parent that what they do and say, will educate their children. I will remind them that they should set a better example than our politicians do for them.

No matter the results of the midterms, it would do us all good to ask ourselves what we are teaching in 2018. Maybe if we thought more about that, we would see the things we have in common instead of what separates us.

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Shelbye Brady grew up in Hobson, graduated from the Rocky Mountain College, and teachers reading intervention in Tukwila, Washington. She returns to Montana whenever she can.