A Democracy Needs Authenticity

Where is the authenticity in American government?

As I indulged in my weekly obsession—Sunday morning news talk shows—I was struck by the lack of candor spewing forth. These media-trained, on-message politicians and political commentators told us next to nothing that could be considered authentic information about our country, the campaign or the future. I turned off the television in dismay.

Photo: Yana Paskova for The New York Times

Demanding pre-approval

I shouldn’t have been surprised, really. After all, the New York Times on Monday bared its journalistic soul with a story called “Last Word on the Trail? I Take It Back.” The story, which caused quite an uproar among non-Beltway journalists, revealed that high-level politicians now demand to approve their quotes before they can be used in print.  The writer, Jeremy W. Peters, blamed it on “a millisecond Twitter news cycle and an unforgiving, gaffe-obsessed media culture.”

Whatever the reason, I don’t think this can be good for our society, our government or our future.

Authentic Teacher Voices
That’s why I am so proud of the VIVA Teachers who share their time, their ideas and their authentic voice with us as part of our VIVA Idea Exchanges. And glad that American government still has at least a few public  leaders who believe in leadership that requires them to workable solutions not just shouting louder and more dogmatically.

Being authentic comes with risk. At the top political levels, they risk taking a hit during one ever-shortening news cycle. At the classroom, school and district level, our teachers sometimes risk their very jobs by speaking out.

We do our best to protect them from scrutiny. The VIVA Idea Exchange displays only their first name, last initial and (usually) what they teach. But there’s always the risk of an unusual name combined with a teaching specialty and a motivated person could figure out who is talking.

Worth the risk
At a recent national meeting of nonprofits helping teachers find their own public voice,  some of the bold teachers who have volunteered their time and talent with other organizations shared the risks they take—bloggers who get “flamed” on the Internet, policy agitators who have had their pay docked for attending meetings, teachers who speak out and are spurned by colleagues or punished by public administrators.  Yet, each of those teachers raised their authentic voice because they believed it was in the best interests of their students and their profession.

That’s the kind of passion our country needs. That’s the kind of courage that is required of a leader. That’s the authentic voice that can make a difference.

If a classroom teacher can do it, shouldn’t we expect the same from the people who lead this country?

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Comments (2)

  1. Your words ring so true! JFK’s book, Profiles in Courage, came to mind while reading your post. He defined political courage as standing up for what you believe to be right and true in spite of the pressure around you to do otherwise. I think your point relates to the many schools and programs that attempt to monitor teacher voices in a totally unauthentic way by scripting exactly what to say. It is one thing when it happens when proctoring a standardized test, it is another when you are standing with a group of students trying to help them learn. Authenticity reintroduces humanity back into the classroom! And, hopefully in politics too!

  2. Glenn Morehouse Olson

    As a teacher of high school journalism, this is an issue we face daily…and it’s not only teachers, but students who are silenced when attempting to raise an authentic voice. I’m proud that I teach young journalists how to question and make informed decisions about what they are hearing, writing, and often – re-tweeting. I hope they will become thoughtful contributors and consumers of media – and that they will have the courage to lend an authentic voice to the national conversation.

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