This gets even harder in the classroom. I tell my students all the time ALL THE TIME my opinion is irrelevant; think for yourself; I will challenge all views; I will present all sides; and most importantly what do you think.
I have this class this year that really wants my personal opinion. I get all shy and bashful and awkward...
"No, kids... I'm not important."
"No brainwashing going on!"
"Some __ would say this... while others would say this..."
But these kids, they are relentless.
A discussion the other day centered on what-I-have-no-idea because I was trying to teach, but in essence they were trying to guess who I have voted for in the past.
I interrupted to say, "HEY! LET'S WORRY LESS ABOUT SILLY LITTLE ME AND MORE ABOUT YOU!"
But I caught a snippet of what one kid said about my vote.
"I betcha she is probably ___, but knows too much and so she can't decide how to vote most of the time."
Why, yes. Yes, I am. (But guess what: We all are.)
So you ask, why is this an occupational hazard?
See, peeps don't like indoctrination in education. Not at all. So I have to be delicate, respectful, and most importantly: balanced. And I respect that. A lot. It teaches compromise to students; after all, cooler heads prevail. Kids dig it because it makes it okay for their ideas to develop and change... to be fluid.
But I have a new occupational hazard. (I will approach carefully.)
I like kids doing democracy. That's lower-case democracy. No, not Democrats, not unless they want to. Same thing for Republicans; not unless you want to. Heck, as long as decorum is in the classroom and we are not being offensive, you can be any party you want. Key. DECORUM. Key. NON-OFFENSIVE. Key. RESPECTFUL.
See, I have a very diverse student population. Kids constantly amaze me with their lives, and I have learned MORE from my students than they have from me. And that diverse population is asked by myself and my school district to participate in politics in ways from old-school canvassing to new-school twitter chats.
Some kids dig it; some don't. But what is making me really sad these days is that I am very nervous to encourage kids to do any and all volunteering, but especially any brand of political volunteering.
Why? Because no one is showing respect these days. Yes, some are worse than others, but from White House pressers to candidates doing other, more disrespectful actions (of which I will not name because what is the point?), I feel like my little government bubble is bursting. In essence, I can't wake up and tell myself my kids are going to like doing democracy, much less be safe.
Not to be all kumbayah, because I respect the fact that we are all entitled to our views. I am not here to tell you not to have them. Particularly, I understand the economic and political forces that are frustrating so much of American culture... The shrinking middle class... the perception that no one is on your side... interestingly enough, this is a perception alive for whites and minorities alike. These are very real problems. However, the signal is lost in the noise. These discussions, bound in facts, that is what makes discourse compelling and influential. (At least for me. Read The Victory Game and you will find personal contact and emotion is what wins votes.) But I take my discourse with a side of data, not dirt. I try to teach my kids the same thing; that personal attacks and rhetological fallacies will kill your argument. Always check yourself before you wreck yourself.
I have been thinking about this a lot. In fact I was lost deep in thought this morning... I found out Diane Rehm, one of my favorite people is retiring, and her reflection on the radio encapsulated so much for me...
Things are different politically in America. I would not be so bold to tell Americans that you are not entitled to your opinion. That is that privilege of an independent mind. However, discourse that is civil... and maybe a bit more of the "typing-and-backspacing-and-retyping-and-double-checking-and-OMG-did-I-come-off-too-strong" would be in order to really examine these issues. If for nothing more than your own kids are watching. And trust me, they know a lot more than you suspect.