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Pandemic-Era Politics Are Ruining Public Education – The Atlantic

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If you’re an American schoolchild, you’ve probably spent much of your recent life alone at home in the mesmerizing glow of a screen, twitching between Google Classroom and innumerable online distractions. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to spend most days in an actual classroom with two-thirds of your face wrapped up, trying to make yourself heard and hear others, taking 30 seconds to shove your lunch down. Your schedule is often unpredictable; some days there’s no one to teach you at all. During the pandemic, you’ve lost at least three months of instruction—or nearly twice that, if your family is poor—as well as the steady company of people your own age. The grown-ups around you fret incessantly about your “mental-health issues” and “social-emotional learning,” which only makes your anxiety and depression worse.

You’re also the nonvoting, perhaps unwitting, subject of adults’ latest pedagogical experiments: either relentless test prep or test abolition; quasi-religious instruction in identity-based virtue and sin; a flood of state laws to keep various books out of your hands and ideas out of your head. Your parents, looking over your shoulder at your education and not liking what they see, have started showing up at school-board meetings in a mortifying state of rage. If you live in Virginia, your governor has set up a hotline where they can rat out your teachers to the government. If you live in Florida, your governor wants your parents to sue your school if it ever makes you feel “discomfort” about who you are. Adults keep telling you the pandemic will never end, your education is being destroyed by ideologues, digital technology is poisoning your soul, democracy is collapsing, and the planet is dying—but they’re counting on you to fix everything when you grow up.

It isn’t clear how the American public-school system will survive the COVID years. Teachers, whose relative pay and status have been in decline for decades, are fleeing the field. In 2021, buckling under the stresses of the pandemic, nearly 1 million people quit jobs in public education, a 40 percent increase over the previous year. The shortage is so dire that New Mexico has resorted to encouraging members of the National Guard to volunteer as substitute teachers.

Students are leaving as well. Since 2020, nearly 1.5 million children have been removed from public schools to attend private or charter schools or be homeschooled. Families are deserting the public system out of frustration with unending closures and quarantines, stubborn teachers’ unions, inadequate resources, and the low standards exposed by remote learning. It’s not just rich families, either, David Steiner, the executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, told me. “COVID has encouraged poor parents to question the quality of public education. We are seeing diminished numbers of children in our public schools, particularly our urban public schools.” In New York, more than 80,000 children have disappeared from city schools; in Los Angeles, more than 26,000; in Chicago, more than 24,000.

These kids, and the investments that come with them, may never return—the beginning of a cycle of attrition that could continue long after the pandemic ends and leave public schools even more underfunded and dilapidated than before. “It’s an open question whether the public-school system will recover,” Steiner said. “That is a real concern for democratic education.”

The high-profile failings of public schools during the pandemic have become a political problem for Democrats, because of their association with unions, prolonged closures, and the pedagogy of social justice, which can become a form of indoctrination. The party that stands for strong government services in the name of egalitarian principles supported the closing of schools far longer than either the science or the welfare of children justified, and it has been woefully slow to acknowledge how much this damaged the life chances of some of America’s most disadvantaged students. The San Francisco school board became the caricature of this folly last year when it spent months debating name changes to Roosevelt Middle School, Abraham Lincoln High School, and other schools with supposedly offensive names, while their classrooms remained closed to the city’s children. Republicans have only just begun to exploit the fallout.

But I’m not interested in joining or refereeing this partisan scrum. Public education is too important to be left to politicians and ideologues. Public schools still serve about 90 percent of children across red and blue America. Since the common-school movement in the early 19th century, the public school has had an exalted purpose in this country. It’s our core civic institution—not just because, ideally, it brings children of all backgrounds together in a classroom, but because it prepares them for the demands and privileges of democratic citizenship. Or at least, it needs to.

What is school for? This is the kind of foundational question that arises when a crisis shakes the public’s faith in an essential institution. “The original thinkers about public education were concerned almost to a point of paranoia about creating self-governing citizens,” Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher in the South Bronx and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told me. “Horace Mann went to his grave having never once uttered the phrase college- and career-ready. We’ve become more accustomed to thinking about the private ends of education. We’ve completely lost the habit of thinking about education as citizen-making.”

School can’t just be an economic sorting system. One reason we have a stake in the education of other people’s children is that they will grow up to be citizens. Education is a public interest, which explains why parents shouldn’t get to veto any book they think might upset their child, whether it’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Beloved. Public education is meant not to mirror the unexamined values of a particular family or community, but to expose children to ways that other people, some of them long dead, think. In an authoritarian or rigidly meritocratic system, schools select the elites who grow up to make the decisions. A functioning democracy needs citizens who know how to make decisions together.

If the answer were simply to push more and more kids into college, the United States would be entering its democratic prime. In 1960, when Richard Nixon chose not to contest an extremely narrow loss to John F. Kennedy, and Nixon partisans didn’t storm the Capitol looking to hang the speaker of the House, 7.7 percent of Americans had college degrees. By the time of last year’s insurrection, that proportion had surpassed one-third. Law degrees from Harvard and Yale didn’t keep Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley from trying to tear up the Constitution. Americans with college degrees are likelier to vote and otherwise participate in civic life than those without; they’re also likelier to spend hours throwing clever online darts. One study found that college-educated Democrats were more likely to hold false views about their political enemies than those without four-year degrees. More education generally makes people more Democratic, but not more democratic.

So the question isn’t just how much education, but what kind. Is it quaint, or utopian, to talk about teaching our children to be capable of governing themselves? Possibly, but I doubt it’s ever been more necessary. The COVID era, with Donald Trump out of office but still in power and with battles over mask mandates and critical race theory convulsing Twitter and school-board meetings, shows how badly Americans are able to think about our collective problems—let alone read, listen, empathize, debate, reconsider, and persuade in the search for solutions. If these habits have something to do with education—and every kindergarten teacher knows that children can be taught to compromise—then democratic citizenship can, at least in part, be learned. We owe our beleaguered children, the victims of our inadequacy, a chance to be better than we are.

We can start by giving them a way to survive the curriculum wars without being captured by one side or the other. The orthodoxies currently fighting for our children’s souls turn the teaching of U.S. history into a static and morally simple quest for some American essence. They proceed from celebration or indictment toward a final judgment—innocent or guilty—and bury either oppression or progress in a subordinate clause. The most depressing thing about this gloomy pedagogy of ideologies in service to fragile psyches is how much knowledge it takes away from students who already have so little. The history warriors build their metaphysics of national good or evil on a foundation of ignorance. In a 2019 survey, only 40 percent of Americans were able to pass the test that all applicants for U.S. citizenship must take, which asks questions like “Who did the United States fight in World War II?” and “We elect a President for how many years?” The only state in which a majority passed was Vermont.

A central goal for history, social-studies, and civics instruction should be to give students something more solid than spoon-fed maxims—to help them engage with the past on its own terms, not use it as a weapon in the latest front of the culture wars. In “The Propaganda of History,” the last chapter of his great study of Reconstruction, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote: “Nations reel and stagger on their way; they make hideous mistakes; they commit frightful wrongs; they do great and beautiful things. And shall we not best guide humanity by telling the truth about all this, so far as the truth is ascertainable?”

The truth requires a grounding in historical facts, but facts are quickly forgotten without meaning and context. The Stanford History Education Group, a research organization, has developed a curriculum called “Reading Like a Historian,” which assembles material from various chapters of American history and poses a thematic question for students to answer. For example, to answer the question of what John Brown was trying to do when he raided Harpers Ferry in 1859, they read several accounts, including one by Brown’s son, an excerpt from the autobiography of Frederick Douglass, and a speech and letter from Brown himself.

The goal isn’t just to teach students the origins of the Civil War, but to give them the ability to read closely, think critically, evaluate sources, corroborate accounts, and back up their claims with evidence from original documents. This kind of instruction, which requires teachers to distinguish between exposure and indoctrination, isn’t easy; it asks them to be more sophisticated professionals than their shabby conditions and pay (median salary: $62,000, less than accountants and transit police) suggest we are willing to support. “We have a desperate shortage of teachers,” David Steiner of Johns Hopkins said, just as we’re making teaching more difficult by “politicizing education.” It’s easy and satisfying for adults to instruct children that America is an exceptional experiment in freedom, or a benighted system of oppressions. It’s harder, but infinitely more useful, to free them to think about history for themselves.

To do that, we’ll need to help kids restore at least part of their crushed attention spans. If remote learning taught parents anything, it was that staring at a screen for hours is a heavy depressant, especially for teenagers. One day, and I hope soon, the masters of social media will stand before Congress with their hands raised in the manner of the Big Tobacco bosses, and try to deny what they’ve long known about the damage their products can inflict on human minds, especially young minds. After these hearings lead to belated regulation of web advertising and toxic algorithms, we’ll look back on the amount of time we let our children spend online with the same horror that we now feel about earlier generations of adults who hooked their kids on smoking.

Of course, students can’t quit cold turkey. “It’s not a choice between tech or no tech,” Bill Tally, a researcher with the Education Development Center, told me. “The question is what tech infrastructure best enables the things we care about,” such as deep engagement with instructional materials, teachers, and other students. But kids need help mastering what now masters them. Releasing them to do “research” in the vast ocean of the internet without maps and compasses, as often happens, guarantees that they will drown before they arrive anywhere. A nonprofit called the News Literacy Project helps teachers guide students in assessing the credibility of news articles and social-media posts. Like learning to read as historians, learning to sift through the tidal flood of memes for useful, reliable information can emancipate children who have been heedlessly hooked on screens by the adults in their lives.

Finally, let’s give children a chance to read books—good books. It’s a strange feature of all the recent pedagogical innovations that they’ve resulted in the gradual disappearance of literature from many classrooms. The phrase English Language Arts already sounds at best indifferent to books. The ELA portion of high-stakes testing hacks up literature into what Steiner calls “bleeding chunks of texts”—isolated passages used to assess comprehension. This approach treats reading as just another skill, like long division or woodworking. When students do read whole books, they’re rarely part of the state assessments. “What’s the incentive for teaching The Bluest Eye deeply and seriously?” Steiner asked.

The best way to interest young people in literature is to have them read good literature, and not just books that focus with grim piety on the contemporary social and psychological problems of teenagers. We sell them insultingly short in thinking that they won’t read unless the subject is themselves. Mirrors are ultimately isolating; young readers also need windows, even if the view is unfamiliar, even if it’s disturbing. The ability to enter a world that’s far away in time or place; to grapple with characters whose stories might initially seem to have nothing to do with your life; to gradually sense that their emotions, troubles, revelations are also yours—this connection through language to universal human experience and thought is the reward of great literature, a source of empathy and wisdom.

The culture wars, with their atmosphere of resentment, fear, and petty faultfinding, are hostile to the writing and reading of literature. The novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently predicted that the novels of the next 10 to 15 years “will be awful … Art has to be able to go to a place that’s messy, a place that’s uncomfortable,” she said. “Literature is the last thing that we can depend on to tell us the truth about who we are.” The connection between reading and democratic citizenship might not be direct, but it’s real.

The pandemic should have forced us to reassess what really matters in public school; instead, it’s a crisis that we’ve just about wasted. The classroom has become a half-abandoned battlefield, where grown-ups who claim to be protecting students from the virus, from books, from ideologies and counter-ideologies end up using children to protect themselves and their own entrenched camps. American democracy can’t afford another generation of adults who don’t know how to talk and listen and think. We owe our COVID-scarred children the means to free themselves from the failures of the past and the present.


This article appears in the April 2022 print edition with the headline “School Shouldn’t Be a Battlefield.” When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.

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In defense of office politics – Smartbrief

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(Image credit: Pexels)

“Office politics” often gets a bad rap. It’s thought of as the domain of catty gossip, shady backroom deals or sycophantic compliments reminiscent of the movies “Office Space” or “9 to 5.”

Thankfully, in real-life, office politics is often much tamer — and also unavoidable for anyone with the ambition to advance.

Why? Because, at its core, office politics is about relationships with colleagues and decision-makers. And nurturing those relationships can go a long way toward advancing your career goals.

What is office politics?

While politics is often derided as purely a popularity contest, there are actually two components — being popular and getting things done.

Let’s think about “real” politics for a moment. You can be very good at getting things done, but if you’re unpopular, you’re not going to be elected in the first place. On the other hand, if you get elected because you’re popular, but fail to accomplish anything, you’ll probably find yourself voted out in the next election.

In office politics, exactly as in “real” politics, you can often get small things done without the support of others. But the more impactful your goals, the more you need to get other people on board to make them happen.

Liked + Trusted + Respected = Influence

To have influence, colleagues need to like you, trust you and respect you.

If you’re not liked, well, that’s pretty much curtains for influencing decisions, unless you’re already the boss. It’s worth noting that to be liked, you must first be known.

If you’re liked, but not respected, you might be involved the discussion, but your view won’t carry any weight. We could call this “Charlie Brown syndrome” after the classic Peanuts character.

If you’re respected but not trusted (think of a well-qualified politician whose agenda you dislike), you may be consulted on an issue but colleagues may have misgivings about your motives.

To influence behavior and decisions in the office requires all three. Liked + Trusted + Respected = Influence.

Can office politics drive value?

Everything we do at CareerPoint is based on our philosophy that career success is driven by the value you create for your employer.

We talk about value creation by referencing eight drivers of value. You could think of these as the atomic elements of employee value. It’s a framework you could use to analyze almost anything in relation to HR or career advancement. Why? Because anything that affects your value as an employee influences both the success of your career and the success of your company.

What we know as “office politics” touches on several of these value drivers, but let’s focus on just two: Relationships and positioning.

Nurturing relationships

Of all the categories of relationships that drive value for a company, none are more significant than customer relationships. If customers like, respect and trust you, they are more likely to highly value your services, keep buying them and recommend them to others. They’re also likely to be patient with you when things go awry, as things inevitably do.

The value of customer relationships can be tremendous and long-lasting. In a law firm, a single relationship can be worth tens of millions of dollars. Relationships are so important that when a partner moves from one firm to another, they often take the relationships with them. In fact, it’s hard to think of an industry where good customer relationships can’t move the dial on company success.

This means good customer relationships are a source of influence for employees. If customers highly regard you, the business won’t want to lose you and ought to value your opinion. If, on the other hand, no customer would notice or care if you left, your influence on decisions and events will be more limited.

Positioning yourself for advancement

The value driver most closely aligned with office politics is the one we’ve named Positioning. It’s all about navigating office politics to position yourself for advancement. After all, you could be the hardest working and most valuable employee in the business but fail to secure advancement if you don’t understand the politics.

The best way to think about this is to imagine a meeting of your company’s management team. Your potential promotion is being discussed. What do you want everyone to say and do?

Obviously, you want everyone to say that you are the best choice for the role. But will they?

There’s nothing you can do at this moment. It’s too late to influence any further.

In some ways, the discussion is a culmination of everything you’ve said and done since you’ve joined the company. The decision will be made largely on how the participants feel about you and the idea of you in a new, more influential role.

This is no idle abstraction. This is exactly how most advancement decisions are made. If you want to advance, the advocacy of every person around the table is what you’re solving for in the game of office politics.

5 tips for becoming an effective office politician

Here are five quick tips you can use to help build trust, respect and likeability in your workplace.

  1. Get involved with projects and initiatives outside of your team and department whenever possible. This will help you begin to widen your network.
  2. Avoid overusing email with new connections. It’s impossible to establish a relationship over email. Use the phone or arrange a quick Zoom/Teams/Webex meeting.
  3. Aim to impress every single new person you work with, both inside and outside the organization. First impressions count and impressing people is often easier than you think.  Just be reliable, responsive and helpful. Do things faster or better than they expect.
  4. You don’t build influence by being a weathervane who simply goes along with everything, but you don’t build influence by opposing everything, either. The middle course is to articulate your position clearly, call the pros and cons as you see them, accept that others will see it differently and get on board with decisions you don’t agree with.
  5. Do favors for people when it helps them without expecting anything in return. If you are generous by nature, you will build a network of influence and appreciation, and you’ll be seen as a team player. This network will help you get things done down the line.

Remember, no matter how much you hate it, office politics is a part of office life we all have to contend with. Instead of avoiding it, put your best foot forward, take smart risks, make mistakes, and learn from them.


To find out how CareerPoint can help you and your team navigate office politics and create the win/win relationships you need to succeed, visit CareerPoint’s website today.

Originally from the west coast of Scotland, Steve McIntosh is a recovering accountant (ICAEW), HR professional (GPHR) and MBA (University of Oxford). After starting his career with global accounting firm KPMG in 1998, Steve founded offshore financial services recruitment firm CML in 2004, which he led as CEO for 16 years.

In 2020, he founded CareerPoint.com, the virtual coaching platform that helps companies and their people get ahead of the curve. With customers and coaches in more than 30 countries around the world, CareerPoint is well on its way to achieving its twofold mission to help a million young people advance in their careers and level the playing field for underrepresented groups.

McIntosh is a “zealous convert” to the value of HR as a driver of business value and the author of “The Employee Value Curve: the unifying theory of HR and career advancement helping companies and their people succeed together.“

If you liked this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free email newsletters on HR and leadership. They’re among SmartBrief’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.

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Czechc Republic: President grants 103 citizens permission to join the Ukrainian military

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Prague, Czech Republic- As the war between Ukraine and Russia rages on, the Czech Republic has now become the latest country to offer military support to Ukraine.

According to the Czech Republic Presidency, President Milos Zeman has granted 103 citizens a special exemption, allowing them to join the Ukrainian military.

Some 400 volunteers had applied for a waiver with the goal of fighting for Ukraine against Russia.

The country requires special permission signed by the President and the Prime Minister to serve in a foreign military force. Otherwise, they face prosecution at home and potentially a five-year prison term.

In addition, the Defense Ministry then reviews each case individually in cooperation with the Interior Ministry and the Foreign Ministry before forwarding the paperwork to the President’s Office for approval.

At the same time, the United States House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved a US$39.8 billion package of military and other assistance to Ukraine.

“Ukrainian people are fighting the fight for their democracy, and in doing so, for ours as well. With this aid package, America sends a resounding message to the world of our unwavering determination to stand with the courageous people of Ukraine until victory is won,” said House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

The package is expected to provide US$6 billion for weaponry, intelligence support, training and other defence assistance to Ukrainian forces, as well as US$8.7 billion to replenish American equipment sent to the country. It will also allocate US$3.9 billion for European Command operations, including intelligence support and hardship pay for troops in the region.

In addition, Legislation also set aside US$13.9 billion for the State Department, with the bulk going toward the Economic Support Fund to help Ukraine’s government continue to function, another US$4.4 billion for emergency food assistance in Ukraine and around the world as well as US$900 million to assist Ukrainian refugees, including housing, English language, trauma and support services.

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Braid: Twin battles of Alberta in hockey and politics set for Wednesday – Calgary Herald

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There’s no certainty at all that the political fight ends Wednesday, even if Jason Kenney wins a majority

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Premier Jason Kenney’s backers sincerely hope their Battle of Alberta ends the very night the monumental Flames-Oilers version begins.

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Kenney will hold an event at Spruce Meadows for supporters, with media also attending, starting late afternoon Wednesday. The results from a vote on his leadership are expected by about 6 p.m.

“We’re anticipating a very exciting and intense evening with the eyes of the entire province glued to a bitterly contested battle, the result of which will reverberate across Alberta maybe for years to come,” says key Kenney campaigner Brock Harrison.

“Oh, and we’re also going to finally see the result of our leadership review.”

The count will come from Cynthia Moore, the UCP president, and chief returning officer Rick Orman.

Shortly after that, the Flames and the Oilers face off at the Saddledome for Game 1 of the second round of Stanley Cup playoff action.

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  1. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces construction of a major highway project in Leduc, Alberta on Thursday, May 12, 2022

    Whether Kenney wins or loses on May 18, the UCP is still headed for a showdown

  2. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks to United Conservative Party members at the party's special general meeting in Red Deer on April 9, 2022.

    Braid: The tiny, tightly controlled event that launched the Kenney leadership vote

Harrison says, “Although our results won’t be known until the early evening, we will absolutely make sure we’re all wrapped up in good time for people to settle in and watch the game.”

The unforgivable political sin for the next two weeks would be to interfere with the real Battle of Alberta.

In hockey, unlike politics, conflict is right out there on the ice. There’s a serious chance of sportsmanship breaking out, and we know it will be over by May 30 at the latest, with one team clearly the winner.

There’s no certainty at all that the political fight ends Wednesday, even if Kenney wins a majority and can technically stay on as party leader and premier.

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Brian Jean speaks to the media after being sworn in as an MLA on April 7.
Brian Jean speaks to the media after being sworn in as an MLA on April 7. Photo by Ed Kaiser /Postmedia

Many of his opponents are in no mood to fall into line. New UCP member Brian Jean may not accept the result.

Other caucus members like Peter Guthrie, Angela Pitt and Leela Aheer are unlikely to reconcile with Kenney, even if he has a substantial majority.

The premier is being advised to purge the whole group from caucus, sending them to sit as Independents with already expelled members Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes.

Kenney may not follow that advice right away. Some effort at conciliation is possible.

But after all that’s been said and done in recent months — the anti-Kenney letters and comments from his own MLAs — it’s hard to imagine a sudden burst of goodwill popping up with the spring tulips.

And there’s a chance that the premier doesn’t get a majority and must resign; or that his majority is so small he would still be under extreme pressure to quit.

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One curiosity is that the political result, unlike the hockey series, is already decided and has been since May 11.

That was the cutoff date for returned mail-in ballots to reach the auditor, Deloitte Canada in Edmonton. No ballots received later were allowed.

This return mail has been examined for voter verification but the actual ballots remain in their sealed envelopes. They will be opened and counted starting the morning of May 18 — this Wednesday.

Suspicion that envelopes were improperly handled may actually have been amplified by the party’s running livestream of voter ID verification. The sight of people repeatedly opening envelopes and discarding some paper seemed mysterious.

But even Kenney opponents who did some of the work (they were allowed by the party) say there’s no way the verification could have been gamed.

Once voter ID was established, the ballot envelopes were packed into clear plastic boxes, each sealed with a unique code.

When the votes are counted Wednesday, dozens of people will be present including scrutineers from hostile UCP riding associations.

That doesn’t answer questions about membership sales, some of which are now being investigated by Elections Alberta. In today’s political climate, there’s always doubt.

That’s one reason the hockey series is so welcome. At least we’ll be absolutely sure who won.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

Twitter: @DonBraid

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