Politics is part of my reschooling trifecta, along with personal finance and technology. These are areas where my lack of knowledge has limited me — in conversation, in attainment of my goals, and in self-confidence.
I’ve never identified myself as “political,” though I’ve chosen friends since college who took a particular interest in what was happening in the world. Through them, and by absorbing snippets from passing headlines and TV satire, I developed a passable knowledge of who was who (from Kim Jong Il to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) and what they were up to. I went through phases where I’d listen to NPR or BBC news for weeks on end and then burn out, burying my head in the sand once again. I felt overwhelmed enough by my own issues and those of people close to me that I chose not to take on those of strangers.
This approach has kept me protected from feeling outraged every time I open a newspaper, but it has also limited me. I’ve felt ignorant more times than I can count when talking with people who assume I have a basic background in world affairs. When traveling abroad, I’ve met many foreigners who know more than I do about the history and politics of my own country. I’ve largely relied on the opinions of my informed friends — or publications I trust — when voting. Ultimately, my unwillingness to stay informed has disempowered me. If I want to make positive change in education, which has always been my passion, I need to be aware of who makes the rules and how they do it. Even more, as someone with the privilege of being an educated, middle-class American, I feel the responsibility to work for social justice and must start by becoming socially conscious.
Lucky for me, I’m plugging into politics at a time where information is available instantaneously — and it’s juicy. The 2008 elections pique my interest more than anything else has in a long time. Obama’s message of truth and hope has inspired people like me to tune in again and even get involved. I’ve been starting to follow the news regularly and am considering volunteering for MoveOn.org as the elections approach.
As glad as I am to be educating myself, the process isn’t without its growing pains. Every time I open the can of worms that is politics, I feel anxious and overwhelmed. There’s so much I don’t know, more than I care to admit. “Wait, why is Joe Lieberman at the RNC? Isn’t he a Democrat?” is just one of dozens of questions that popped up. You might feel good about yourself for knowing the answer to that, Smirky McSmugerson, but consider this: There are hordes of people who know even less than I do, believe what they’re told instead of actively educating themselves, and have a vote equal to yours. I hope that you’ll put aside any judgment and help inform those of us with major blind spots. (This is where I stick out my tongue and say, “So there.”)
The whole point of reschooling myself is to assess my limitations honestly, including the gaps in my knowledge, without shame. The next step is to start learning now, no matter how steep the learning curve. Last week I started by watching C-SPAN for the first time during the Democratic National Convention. Today I invested a few hours watching Palin’s and McCain’s RNC acceptance speeches at the Republican National Convention, reading the SF Chronicle’s election coverage, and doing internet research that included:
- Sarah Palin’s change of heart (or “flip-flopping” in GOP terms) about earmarks
- Obama’s reaction to Lieberman’s tone while campaigning for McCain
- Comedian Sara Benincasa’s spot-on video log parodies of Sarah Palin
I expect that it’ll be a while before I catch up entirely, but I’m proud of myself for starting the journey of a thousand baby steps. Next up: Understand what the candidates have planned for American education.
Flickr Creative Commons image courtesy of Brian Auer.