No Lines in the Sand: How to Keep Ourselves Honest in School Politics

This post was written by Marilyn Rhames and originally appeared at It is reprinted here with permission.

If politics makes strange bedfellows, as the saying goes, then school politics just makes fellows strange.

[Related: How Long Before We Achieve Education Equity in America? 250 Years?]

Strange, or you might call it conflicted. When unexpected situations arise in our lives, I find that our views on public education can cause a crisis of conscience, or worse, integrity, when we take on public personas that don’t align with our private lives.

Here are some real-life examples to illustrate what I mean:

  • A non-unionized charter school teacher is a die-hard supporter of the Chicago Teachers Union. She lives in the suburbs, works in the city, and fraudulently sends her kid to a high-performing selective-enrollment high school in the city. (Take a minute to unpack that one.)
  • A Chicago Public Schools teacher protested the authorizing of a charter school that would compete with her school, yet she sends her own kids to a charter school outside of her neighborhood.
  • A charter school teacher pulled her own child out of the school where she worked in the middle of the year so her kid could get a better education at a Catholic school.
  • A Christian school claims it educates youth to do the Lord’s work, but refuses to admit kids who test just one grade level below because “teaching them would take time away from the other students in the class, and that wouldn’t be fair.”
  • A white charter school principal has committed his career to serving underprivileged black and brown children in the city, but when his children reached school age, he left Chicago for an affluent suburb, where his children are now educated.
  • A district teacher/union delegate feels obligated to pass out CTU’s anti-charter school fliers but privately admits that she would work at a charter if the salaries weren’t so low.
  • The top brass at CPS typically send their children to elite private schools in the city, though a few district leaders take pride in enrolling their kids in public schools, albeit the top-performing ones.

I think all of these scenarios are, well, strange. That’s me in the third bullet point!

Good, honest people will go to extreme measures to give their children an edge, or at least ensure that they are getting a good education. We might draw a line in the sand publicly, but when our own kid or livelihood is at stake, we so easily erase and redraw the line a little closer to the opposing side while pretending it never moved.

Is it a crisis of integrity to secretly move the line? Or is drawing a politically charged line in the sand the biggest threat to our integrity?

Is it unethical to seek ways to gain an edge in a broken school system, or is not doing so irresponsible?

I often wonder how effective any of us can really be if we spend our professional careers fighting against systemic injustice, but we navigate our personal lives in such a way that we remain completely untouched by it. The Mother Teresa approach of serving the poor while also choosing to live with the poor has little to no curb appeal.

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