Shades of Grey

I have said before that, as I get older, I tend to see less black and white and more shades of grey.  As I learn more, inquire more, and come in contact with more of the world, I begin to realize that my perspective is highly colored by my (rather limited) experiences.  Yet, when I watch modern politics I am noticing that many people only see black and white.  I watched a variety of social media after the killings in Colorado Springs this week.  It was scary to watch people of all political leanings attempt to make the narrative of those tragic events fit into a narrative that supported what they already believed.  Rather than simply viewing the event as a tragic loss of life, people struggled to make it about gun control, race, religion, abortion, or even immigration.  As of today we actually know very little about what led to that shooting, but many people have already constructed their narrative to reinforce their current belief system, when the reality is that what led this man to go on this rampage is almost certainly a very complicated and troubling set of issues.

For good or for bad we all create narratives to support our beliefs.  I am certainly guilty of this and those who I disagree with are guilty as well.  When it comes to Iowa’s schools there seems to be two narratives competing with each other.  The narrative that I subscribe to is that schools are being asked to do more with less each year.  Our legislators and our communities are demanding a lot from schools and educators and yet resources are becoming more and more scarce.  The other narrative seems to be that schools are wasting the resources that they are being given.  That narrative says that educators are collecting lavish salaries and that resources don’t make it to our students.  Further, I think it is fair to say that at every fork in the road we simply use the narrative that we operate under to perpetuate our current belief system.

There is nothing wrong with competing narratives.  Our belief systems are all the result of our own experiences and there is nothing wrong with that either.  But, we must be willing to allow for the possibility that ours isn’t the only possible lens through which to view a situation.  We must be willing to see the shades of grey in any given challenge and seek common ground in order to be problem solvers.

Our political system is broken because no one will admit that a narrative other than their own could be valid.  In the debate about Iowa’s schools one side of the discussion seems to be that Iowa’s schools are broken.  If the world is only black and white, then the other side has to be that Iowa’s schools need to stay the same.  But, if we accept the premise that a debate might be able to be nuanced, what if we all accepted the notion that Iowa’s schools have to change.  What if we got away from the rhetoric that what we have is broken and started with the idea that our schools need to grow and flourish; it becomes a different conversation right?

We are less than two months from Iowa’s legislature coming into session.  There is still time to make this a real conversation about what is good for Iowa’s young people.  It starts with presuming positive intentions.  That isn’t always easy for us.  With that being said, it also starts with an honest discussion about priorities.  If great public schools are not a priority to our legislators, then that is important to know.  But, if we as Iowans can agree that great public schools are a top priority we must find a way to make it happen.

What scares me is that I don’t think that those in power are having a conversation about how we make Iowa’s public schools great.  The debate is about winning and losing on a political level.  There is a belief that if legislators can restrict resources to public schools that there is a political “victory” to be had.  That has to change.

The conversation has to be about what is best for ALL of Iowa’s young people.  If we get caught up in the idea that one side of the politics of education must “lose” in order to improve our schools then we won’t get anywhere.  I truly believe if legislators have been listening to their constituents in recent months the message is loud and clear.  Iowans don’t want another partisan battle at the statehouse over school funding.  Iowans want their public schools to be great and we want our legislators to represent their districts, not simply hold their party lines.

Our schools don’t have to be “broken” in order to change.  One party doesn’t have to “win” in order to make our schools better.  Iowa’s schools will get better if we recognize that public education policy is nuanced and if the voices of Iowans are heard.  Now is the time to be heard.  Iowa’s legislative priorities are being set NOW, so if you care about public education you must be heard NOW.  By talking about what your school needs in order to be successful now, you are joining the conversation before it turns partisan and before it becomes about 1.25% or 4% or 6%.  The conversation should be about creating a portrait of what our schools should look like and what resources are necessary to create those portraits.

I urge our Governor and our legislators to move beyond the rhetoric of “broken” schools and the need to “win” and focus on what Iowans want, which is the best possible schools for our young people.  I have confidence that if our legislators truly listen to their constituents that our schools will get better.  But that will only happen if we speak up and are heard.

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