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A Knot in My Stomach That Won’t Leave

February 2, 2017

Every morning I begin my day by scanning several education blogs, newspapers, and political websites. I usually begin by reading Diane Ravitch’s previous day’s posts because they are sent to me well before 5:00 AM.

I finished reading the blog posts from yesterday just now and realized that I felt a knot in my stomach like the one that wakens me in the middle of the night when I have dreams about missing an examination or showing up for a public meeting without the right attire and without being prepared. It’s also like the knot I felt when I entered a hall full of parents who were angry with a proposal regarding school district boundary lines or when I broke up an inter-racial fight in the hallway at the high school or when I emptied a tense crowd of gang members in a bathroom to get the junior high students into their classes after the bell rung. But I realize that this knot will not go away. This knot isn’t created by a dream, it isn’t the result of an administrative problem that can be reconciled through dialogue, and it isn’t the result of conflicts that can dissipate as quickly as they emerge. The persistent knot is the result of the convergence of all of these elements because of the first ten days of Mr. Trump’s administration and the sense that the damage he is doing to our country and especially to our public schools is permeant and irreversible… and the sense that there is little I can do about it despite my best efforts.

Ms. Ravitch’s posts include an evolving sense that it may be possible to stop the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education by sending a tweet to Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska because she has determined that Ms. Fischer may hold the key vote that might deny Ms. DeVos her seat. I will do this, but am doing so with the belief that should Ms. DeVos not get the appointment as Secretary of Education that President Bannon— oops, Trump— has another individual waiting in the wings who might be more qualified and who will inflict the same agenda on public education…. and the sense that the next Secretary of Education will be someone who wants to dismantle public education and replace it with a “free market” makes that knot in my stomach tighten up even more. And with the pending and likely appointment of a creationist businessman to Commissioner of Education in my home state of New Hampshire it is conceivable that a comparable unravelling of public schools will occur in my backyard.

At the same time as I observe the dismantling and deregulation of public education, I am witnessing the unravelling of environmental regulations, treaties with allies, the shredding of trade agreements with no coherent plan for their replacement, and saber rattling in all quarters of the world. Each of these issues ALONE creates a small knot in my stomach… and collectively these knots trigger a fight or flight mechanism.

I’ve decided for now to fight… and I’ve done so by writing my local State and federal delegation, writing op ed articles for our local newspaper, blogging daily on education issues, joining a local group advocating for renewable energy, and using social media to share articles that I find thought provoking. But I have the sense that all I am doing is building a sand fortress at low tide… My local State delegation and federal representatives are Democrats who are reliably opposing the irrationality we are witnessing in Concord and Washington. They oppose the appointments and legislation I oppose and support the few bills that I support. The people who’ve read and shared blog posts and op ed articles also agree with the positions I’ve written about and my friends on Facebook with a few notable exceptions are also in complete agreement with the sense that our leaders are misguided. This leaves me with an even greater sense of helplessness since I am not engaging individuals whose opinions and thought patterns are different from mine.

I am an incurable optimist…. but I also take some pride in having my optimism grounded in reality… and the reality now is that our democratic institutions are in peril and the “anti-government” group in control of the Federal and State are about to use the power of government to limit the freedoms of immigrants, LGBT friends and relatives, women, and even old white men like me who want to attend demonstrations, write letters in opposition to the government, and attend rallies… and that is creating a knot in my stomach that will not go away.

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