The OF Blog: Why not write about politics?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why not write about politics?

Read two interesting posts by Paolo Bacigalupi and John Scalzi this evening on the issue of whether or not a fiction writer ought to discuss politics on his/her blog. Scalzi in particular makes a very important point, one that hits very close at home for me:

Why yes, fiction writers should write about politics, if they choose to. And so should doctors and plumbers and garbage collectors and lawyers and teachers and chefs and scientists and truck drivers and stay-at-home parents and the unemployed. In fact, every single adult who has reason enough to sit down and express an opinion through words should feel free to do just that. Having a citizenry that is engaged in the actual working of democracy matters to the democracy, and writing about politics is a fine way to provide evidence that one is actually thinking about these things.
As a teacher, I have felt rather constrained by the nature of my profession. It has been drilled into my head from my earliest days on the job that there are just certain things that one does not discuss at length in the hearing of students or their parents: religion, one's personal opinions of certain school/community leaders, and politics of course. I have taken that to heart for the most part; I keep my personal life (including this blog) as far apart from my professional one as I can manage.

However, Scalzi is right (and how I wish he wasn't joking about preferring my beloved Vols over UGA...) in that when it comes to matters of import, why are people being reticent in declaring their preferences? I'm not exactly constrained by the Hatch Act, but there is that sense that I shouldn't be prosetlyzing when lecturing about the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th century. I'm not shying away from talking about the perniciousness of racism and nativism, for example, but yet when it comes to coming out and stating directly that I prefer the politics of Eugene Debs over that of James Blaine, I hesitate.

Could it be it's a worry that what I say might just lead to my dismissal, since I don't have tenure? Perhaps, since I do recall quite well being chewed out by an assistant principal my first year of teaching 9 years ago, all because I noted that some people have argued that the 4th Amendment's strictures on searches and seizures have been stretched to the breaking point; apparently I was being "anti-cop" and one student's father is a state trooper and they were upset that I would "imply" that he was "bad" or "not doing his job." I believe there was even a hint that I might not be rehired if I said anything else like that again. I resigned that position the following year and moved to another state to get away from that small town political atmosphere.

But yet it is something that looms over the heads of many teachers. We are held to a different standard. Joe Schlomo can spout out whatever he pleases about Obama or McCain (often with various slurs mixed in), but teachers are expected to shut our yaps and "learn them well." It is much easier to state one's opinions when one's job is not potentially on the line. But I am learning how to skirt around this a bit.

That being said, the Debs comment ought to be a hint about my political persuasions, even if I will rarely say it out loud. Nice to see Michael Palin is up there with McCain in contesting for second place, though...


Liviu said...

This is a very interesting post and my answer is that writing about politics online is about your choice of how much energy/nerves you want to invest in futility, and how much you want to belong to a tribe - since otherwise you are going to be flattened or ignored.

Politics is about nuance and the Net is not good about that - see how people dismiss books as Nazi porn based on a blurb - and that is a book, think now about political comments which may touch on what is very sensitive for so many people and how much distortion can follow then.

Think about the Helix controversy which touched a bit on politics and how immediately people belonging to a tribe jumped in without bothering to investigate the nuances ...

Then "discussing about politics" usually means US politics and many people who do not live here frankly have no clue about America's political system, what the parties represent in various parts of the country and so on.

In most of the world party leaders/activists elect candidates and a phenomenon like the 2 current presidential candidates, one who is actively despised by a large number of his party leadership/activists and barely tolerated by a large part of the rest and another who was a virtual unknown 4 years ago and mounted a successful insurgency against the most heavily favored non-incumbent candidate ever for whom even the rules were tweaked to insure a fast nomination is just inconceivable.

Jason Erik Lundberg said...

I am very thankful that I'm in a school that values discourse of all kinds, so I'm not constrained in really anything I say. Even about the Singaporean government. And I'm free to talk about US politics, because I don't live there anymore, and my opinions won't influence the kids politically one way or the other. I certainly don't want to push them in any one direction, but if they ask me a direct question about Obama or Palin, I feel comfortable answering it honestly.

But when I was still teaching in the US, I had much the same experience as you did, Larry. Certain subjects were just not talked about in the classroom. I never felt in danger of losing my job, but that was certainly the vibe I got.

Lsrry said...

I'm an odd mixture of an idealist and a pragmatic - I know what I say will have little influence on others, but how I come across in saying it can influence quite a few. I agree the Net isn't great for conveying nuance, although it can be done...provided the communicator and the recipient are both willing to concede the need for nuances in the first place. Kathleen Parker's most recent column after her comments on Sarah Palin is illuminating - the US is so partisan right now that it's hard for a conservative or a liberal to say anything that seems to go against that preconceived label without that person being called a "traitor." Incidentally, I used in class yesterday a political cartoon showing the GOP Right calling McCain a "traitor" because he had a history of working with Democrats in the Senate to get legislation passed.

Jason Erik, I have to say that I envy your situation, as I haven't had that amount of trust/freedom with my students ever since I taught an adjunct history class. Considering that I teach very near one of the largest military bases in the South right now...I have to have be very considerate of their opinions while still challenging them to develop those in a way that doesn't denigrate another's opposing opinion. Did a lesson yesterday on political cartoon interpretations (since they were struggling with understanding some of the ones from the 1870s and 1880s) using a series of political cartoons from 2007-2008 that were both pro- and anti- McCain/Obama. While some tried to find out my own personal take (it's either Obama or Moore), I kept the focus on the cartoons themselves and the different ways political attitudes are expressed and the results were encouraging. Too bad none of them are eligible to vote, as I think I could get about 60-70% participation from the 16-17 year-olds.

Add to Technorati Favorites