I was a...difficult child. Strong willed. Rebellious. Contentious. Many people would assert I haven't changed much.
I am trained in public speaking and debate. It's part of my secondary certification.
I coached Forensics for four years.
I was a building representative for our teacher association for three years.
I have gained a reputation in my district as a well-spoken, strongly-opinionated professional who is willing to challenge the administration and speak up for teachers and students. In recent and on-going debates with administration over some proposed changes to the English courses to which the English teachers are unanimously (for once) and strongly opposed, teachers from one of the other high schools specifically asked their department chair to make sure I was part of the committee. My own building had already made sure I was on it.
I'm known in my literature classes for leading challenging discussions in which I often play Devil's Advocate. I stir the pot. I work up my students. I get them going in debate and then sit back and enjoy.
All this and...
I Hate Conflict.
I know. It doesn't make sense. But then, I never claimed to be logical.
There's a reason I rarely post here about highly-charged and hotly-debated topics. Several times I've started writing posts on topics like breastfeeding, working moms, elections, education...and then I've usually ditched the posts or scaled them waaaaaaaay back.
I was even nervous about writing my post on post-partum depression.
Then yesterday I got all brave and stuff and actually wrote a fairly impassioned post about education budget cuts. And as the pointer hovered over Publish Post, I hesitated. Did I want to go there? Did I want to open myself up to the varied responses I knew I could get? After all, I know I have readers from all over the political spectrum with all sorts of opinions on things like government spending and education.
I gulped and hit the mouse button.
The good news is that I haven't been flamed. I did get an anonymous comment that was kinda sorta bashing public education, but at least it was supportive of teachers. I also have had an interesting email exchange with another reader, but I knew that one was coming and he's respectful in debate, so I've handled it okay.
But the truth is that whenever I get into debate about these kinds of topics, the ones where people feel so strongly and so oppositely, the ones where at this point people have pretty much taken their stance and are very unlikely to be budged, my stomach hurts. This is a sort of conflict with which I do not deal well.
Partly this is because when it's a topic that becomes so personal and which polarizes people so much, I often find myself in the odd and unpleasant position of standing in between the poles. This means I see and agree with aspects of both sides and therefore please neither. Another reason is when I sense the sheer futility of arguing these points when doing so apparently does nothing to change minds and instead just creates hostility--well, I just want to throw up my hands and walk away.
The harsh reality, from where I stand, is that these issues are so complex that there are no easy answers. People on either side must disregard or dismiss or eliminate crucial elements of the situation in order to hold their position to be The Truth.
Breastfeeding vs. Formula? So many women passionately believe that Breast is Best. For the most part I agree. But what about the women who, for whatever reason, cannot produce milk? What about the women who are HIV positive and must avoid breastfeeding? What about the women who, for very personal reasons, choose formula instead? Why must we demonize them and assume their children will, of course, be less healthy, less intelligent, and less advantaged than those who are breastfed? And then how do we deal with breastfeeding in a society that largely views it as obscene and/or sexual and private--certainly not something to do in any public setting?
Working Mother vs. Stay-at-Home Mother? How about making it about the Parent, not just the Mother? What about figuring out what is best for the parent, the children, and the family as a whole? What about situations in which there IS no choice? Why assume that every working parent is neglecting her/his child or doing a poorer job of parenting? Why assume every SAH parent isn't really "working" and is wasting his/her education? Why attack each other at all?
Private vs. Public Education? What about providing options? What about making sure everyone is educated but still have choices about what is right for each family, each student, each individual? What about seeking equity (which is NOT homogeneity) in education?
Conservative vs. Liberal? What about those who lie in between, who perhaps want to see less profligate and irresponsible spending of taxpayers' money, but who still believe strongly in social programs, social justice, and social responsibility? What if we agree with certain points on each side? Why must everything be labeled one or the other?
That's just a taste of my internal conflict. Some may think I'm a fence-walker, unwilling to commit myself to one side or another. I don't see myself that way. But then, there's another area where debate will do little to change anyone's mind.
I guess I'm frustrated. In some ways it would be far easier to be firmly in one camp or another. That's not my reality. I wish I dealt better with this sort of debate, too. I may be strong, independent, and opinionated, but when the topics turn personal, I find myself struggling not to burst into tears. I take comments too personally and struggle to differentiate between debate and confrontation.
There's a reason I often feel it's simpler, safer, to just stick with poetry.