Build Bridges Not Barriers

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Political polarization has deeply divided our nation. I am not here to lay the finger of blame on any person or political party. The roots of the problem are diverse and have developed over time. Likewise, solutions will not happen overnight and will require pragmatic thinking and a willingness to work with people we may not always agree with on critical issues.

In a joint article by Joan Blades, a founder of MoveOn and John Gable, formerly of the Republican National Committee, We Should All Speak to People We Don’t Agree With. Here’s How- the authors write: “Many folks who are highly engaged on the right and left have come to a point where they have decided that people on the other side are ignorant, bigoted, evil, or stupid. Another large number of citizens have decided that they do not want to engage in politics altogether.”

Along those same lines, Michael Smerconish, a talk radio host believes the American political divide has been greatly exaggerated by those with a motivation to perpetuate polarization. He also believes there is “a chunk of Americans who don’t skew to the extreme right on politics and don’t skew to the extreme left. And, most importantly, they want to talk about it.”

In all likelihood, there are a large number of Americans who want to engage on key issues. There is also a generation that has likely disengaged from politics completely with little or no plans to become reengaged.

In public education, we have found that educators want new thinking, pragmatic solutions, and fresh ideas. In particular, educators do not want their dues to be utilized as political campaign contributions or to support social issues and causes unrelated to education—even when they are politically active.

Nobody wins in public education when education associations engage in aggressive political partisanship and promote a wide-ranging social agenda on issues unrelated to education, often not reflective of the diverse political views of their broader membership. That is why we feel it is important to build bridges with all organizations across Tennessee, even with those we may disagree with politically at times.

Blades and Gable point out in getting past barriers that people do not have to agree on the issues. They argue “disagreement can be good, at least when we truly listen to understand the merits of the arguments and the people with them.” Then continue, “Often it is easy to agree on the goal, like better education and a stronger democracy, even if we disagree on how to get there.” One of the important ways to build bridges and avoid barriers is constructive communication. It is critically important to listen.

However, bridges only work when we are willing to cross them. Personally, and professionally, I look for more opportunities to bring people together to address education challenges. We need to sit down with whom we agree and with whom we do not agree and have necessary and tough conversations. As a leading voice for educators in Tennessee, we seek to bring people together toward a common goal, find agreement and make a positive difference for public education. We will continue to break down barriers that divide, and build lasting bridges in an inclusive manner—welcoming a difference of opinion—working with everyone to advance the goals of public education for students, our educators, and our profession.

JC Bowman
Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee


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