Political Spaces: More on the Politics of Calling for No Politics

A talking head on my local sports talk radio recently speculated that part of the reason NFL TV ratings are slightly down is that fans in the U.S. do not want politics mixed with their sports.

The touchstone of blame, of course, was Colin Kaepernick, who has now been named starter for this coming week’s game and, subsequently, has become the face on further speculation about how fans will react — since, you know, Kaepernick is being all political.

This lingering debate about “political” reminds me of the politics of calling for no politics that plagues education.

Educators at the K-12 level and professors work within a norm that expects educators to not be political. Something my roundtable at the National Council of Teachers of English annual conference this November 2016 in Atlanta, GA is addressing with Confronting Educator Advocacy with Pre­Service and Early Career Teachers.

The current NFL debate centered on Kaepernick and K-12 education share something profoundly important: both simultaneously establish themselves as political spaces and then demand no politics from those with the least political power.

With all NFL games starting with the National Anthem and schools days across the U.S. starting with the Pledge of Allegiance, NFL games and public schooling are political spaces because coercing, demanding, or denying public displays of nationalism/patriotism is profoundly political.

Complaints, then, about “being political” are dishonest; the truth is that those in power wantcompliance to a prescribed politics — not an absence of politics.

And that can be proven easily. If we want our sport and education spaces to be politics free, stop playing the National Anthem and stop asking children to recite the Pledge.

But that will never happen — not in the good ol’ U.S. of hypocrisy.

Where the ultimate politics is the politics of money — and the best we can offer democracy and human agency is lip service.

Human behavior is always political, and those in power are always exercising their political will — which too often includes demanding no politics from everyone else.

Kapernick is exposing, at least, this fact about the hollowness of calls for spaces free of politics.

If in the U.S., anyone has to relinquish her/his political agency because of her/his profession, then we all have lost our freedom, we have thus conceded to a totalitarian state.

Standing with hand over heart during the National Anthem is a political act, just as Kaepernick’s kneeling. Both are the byproduct from those in power who have created the political space to begin with.

We must, then, resist the urge to condemn and blame those brave enough to respond to political spaces by exercising their politics — and if we truly want spaces free of politics, we must confront those in power, which would, of course, take our own political will to act.

Written by

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education. https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/

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