The agony of witnessing relentless ineptitude

Recently I read an anonymous comment on social media proclaiming it was time for some political activists to turn silent. The commenter used a sports analogy; he proclaimed he thoroughly disliked the New England Patriots, but that the game was over, and he was not interested in protesting the outcome. He’s thinking about next season, not dwelling on a painful loss.

The truth is one can only deal with the sort of relentless, shallow ineptitude on display in that example for so long before one begins to forcibly remove hair from one’s own head. No one should have to clarify this, but it really isn’t about losing a game, or even an election; it is about agonizing over what is happening right now.

As a public educator of eleven years, I have dealt with the aftermath of decisions made seemingly without consideration of their almost certain, albeit unintended, catastrophic consequences. Experienced educators nationwide banged their foreheads on their cluttered, coffee-stained desks the day No Child Left Behind became law fifteen years ago, and they did it again when it took the next administration nearly two full presidential terms to replace it. In fact, educators intentionally bang their heads a lot these days when decisions are made that are not perceived as being in the best interest of the children they serve.

There was also the time a Commissioner of Education was appointed who has not ever been a teacher and is not a supporter of public education. Our foreheads took a bruising on that day, too; it turns out public school teachers like to know that the person overseeing the institution of public education in America is a supporter of public education.

Is it that articles, columns and blogs about education only interest people who are considered education stakeholders? Perhaps an individual who does not identify as an education stakeholder is not interested in how teachers teach, how public schools are funded, or who makes decisions about what happens in public schools.

Parallel lines could be drawn with respect to environmentalism and environmentalists. Remember the time a Director of the Environmental Protection Agency was appointed who was a direct critic of the organization and in fact had sued it a bunch of times? I do, because in addition to being an educator, I am also an environmentalist. More bruises to the forehead.

So all is good as long as you are not an education stakeholder or an environmentalist. All those people whose lives are not impacted by public education or the environment (i.e. everything) can relax and breathe easy.

How many of these people are there?

The same goes for feminism and anyone who identifies as a feminist. All those issues that impact women, and the laws imposed on women by mostly men, are really not a big deal unless you are a woman or a feminist, so all those men and non-feminists out there, y’all can chill, because women’s issues don’t impact you, right?

Except they do, and if you really don’t identify as a feminist, I suggest you rethink your identity and have a visit to a middle school science classroom while you’re at it, because women’s health issues, women’s equality issues, women’s issues in general, affect us all. If you are not a feminist, you are an extremely unique, and probably very complicated individual. If you are not a feminist, and you are not interested in promoting women’s health and women’s rights, you are by definition in favor of the destruction of humanity.

Likewise, if you do not identify as an education stakeholder, if you are not a believer in funding quality education, if you are not a supporter of innovation and excellence in schools, then you are by definition anti-American and anti-progress. You are in favor of the steady decline of the American experiment, because the more American students fall behind in school, the more America falls behind when future generations are in charge.

Not a tree-hugging, composting, carbon footprint conscious environmentalist like me? That one gets interesting too, because if you are not in favor of taking measures to protect the environment, if you are not willing to invest in energy sources that don’t deplete fossil fuel caches and that don’t spew chemicals into the atmosphere, than you are valuing convenience and absolutely massive profits for the fossil fuel industry over the quality of air we breathe, the variety and safety of the food we eat, the existence of our low level coastal communities, and the future of life on Earth. If you do not identify as an environmentalist, or one who promotes healthy surroundings for all, you are in favor of pollution, exploitation of resources, and disregard for eco-diversity and by definition anti-Earth. That’s the same Earth we have evolved alongside every other existing species for the past eleven or so million years. Or, if you prefer to exclusively subscribe to the Biblical story of our origins, if you do not identify as an environmentalist, you are in favor of systematically disassembling God’s sacred creation, thus leaving us nothing to have dominion over, which effectively results in a lot of homeless Christians floating in space.

So when I hear that the United States of America, the world’s greatest superpower and richest nation, is backing out of the Paris Climate Agreement, I find myself banging my forehead against my desk, again.

Environmentalism, feminism and advocating for education are not radical ideologies, and they absolutely are not just lofty philosophies for progressive idealists. Environmentalists, feminists and education stakeholders simply care about every component of the community in which they live, and you probably do too. Everything in this world is connected to everything else. Droughts in the Middle East and Africa cause distress, panic and resentment, which impacts the entire world. Thawing permafrost in Alaska and forest fires in the southwest and southeast displace American families. Discrimination against women and minorities inhibits freedom and opportunity, two expressly American ideas. Lousy schools in inner cities, rural communities or anywhere else result in poorly educated future generations. All of those things impact humans, Americans, and America.

The Paris Climate Agreement is not about which country benefits the most, and if it was, that country would clearly be the one that continues to exploit the most resources per citizen than any other in the world regardless. But it’s not about that. It’s about being a responsible participant in a global community of nations. It’s about being proud, responsible Americans. When the richest, most exploitative people in the world back out of an agreement cooperatively working toward making the world a safe place for all nations, we are identifying ourselves by definition as anti-humanity. It’s the kind of thing that makes your heart just sink, and your head hurt from repeated contact with the hard surface in front of you. One can only take so much repeated trauma to the head.

James Tatum Gale

About James Tatum Gale

I have been a teacher in Maine schools for twelve years, and a writer and musician since childhood. I acquired a Master's degree in Teaching from USM, and a Certificate in Math Leadership from UMF. My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy with a concentration in Comparative Religion from the University of Maine (1994). I live with my wife, Erin, and my dog, Sally, in Bowdoinham.