I used to admire MSNBC Countdown host Keith Olbermann for saying what everyone else was thinking. On 9/11/08, he wasn’t afraid to declare that the Bush administration was trying to profit from using “9/11 TM” as a brand. After listening to just a few of Olbermann’s Special Comments, however, I’ve gotten tired of his diatribes. They are so extreme that I don’t think they’re very effective, and they hurt my head. I think we can learn an important lesson from Olbermann when it comes to social change, including education reform: Yelling doesn’t get you anywhere.
As you can see from the archives, I had written only a handful of posts when I kicked off Reschool Yourself a few months ago. The post that you’re reading now, I am proud to say, is my 100th. I find the timing excellent, because I want to take this opportunity to digress from reschooling and celebrate the election of our new president.
Tonight I want to flood the streets with my fellow Americans, whooping and carrying on like the Europeans do after their team wins a soccer match. Tonight I can say that I’m proud to be an American, and I haven’t said that in a long time.
I studied in Spain in the Fall of 2000, during the infamous election that would make the name “Chad” as unpopular for new babies as “Judas.” I voted absentee. When I went to bed the night of the election, the news channels favored Gore as the winner. When I woke up the next morning, it looked like Bush had won, but there was much rapid debate in a language I was just beginning to understand. I felt incredibly confused and desperately wanted to know what was happening. I now know I would have felt the same way if I’d been watching the coverage in the U.S. in English. When Bush was finally declared president, a lot of my American classmates said that they wished they didn’t have to go back to the U.S. We predicted the Bush presidency would be bad, but we couldn’t have imagined the magnitude of what was in store for our country.
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.