While I was in college, I took a graduate class about political behavior. In this class we read a lot of theory about voting patterns, how people behave in elections, and we bridged the gap between this theory and what actually happens. Understand, this was in 2004 or so and many of the specifics are a little fuzzy.
What I remember most were two things. First, I did a major project on school boards and school board elections. At the time, I didn’t have any interest in being on a school board. But, I was interested in how they were constructed. According to my research, only about 17% of school board members have a background in education. Things like being a PTO president, substitute teacher, and school volunteer were considered a background (and this is valuable experience). However, after spending the last 10+ years in higher education studying our educational system, I have walked away with two things. First, educators need to make decisions about education. I completely understand the need for the public to have a voice, but more than 80% of the voice? Second, and perhaps more importantly, education is complicated. While most of us attended school in some fashion (I say most because of homeschooling), being a student doesn’t mean that you know education. That is akin to saying that being a patient means you know medicine. Or getting arrested means you know law.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t have expertise in medicine or law or engineering or the military or construction. Or a host of other careers. But, I do have expertise in education. I was a public school teacher for 11 years and have almost finished 11 years as a college professor in the field of education. In addition, I have two advanced degrees in education which took a total of seven years of graduate school. My experience and education qualifies me to not only be on a school board, but to understand the complexities, the depth of the issues, the ramifications of decisions, and the effects on not only students, but the community.
The second thing I learned in my study of political behavior is about elections. What I learned is that, according to research, all of what I said above doesn’t matter. If you ask an individual, yes, they care. But, in general, voters don’t focus on details. In the last election for this position, only about 10% of the registered voters voted. To me, that is sad for a democracy. Second, people vote for what they recognize.
Why do you think our roadways, empty lots, and neighborhoods are littered with political signs? We choose things we recognize. If you see a name over and over and over and over, when it comes time to decide who to vote for, you choose the name. In fact, the more you see it, the more likely you will vote. And what are you voting for? The name on a sign?
With this in mind, we also like simplicity. We don’t like complexity. We come up with catchy slogans. We come up with phrases to describe ourselves. I will admit, I am guilty of this. My slogan is, “An Educator for Education.” What does this even mean? It tells you that I am an educator. I think this is important. It also tells you that I am for education. And it sounds good.
In this election, I have two opponents. Both of them have slogans about being a voice. One says, “A New Voice, A Fresh Perspective.” The other says she wants to be, “The Voice for Education.” See? Simple and to the point. And sort of the same.
I argued earlier that we need educators in education. Why do we need a new voice? Especially a new voice that doesn’t have the background in the complexities of education. Listening to people isn’t enough. Considering that this is an open seat and none of us have ever been on a school board, don’t we all have a fresh perspective? The other slogan is more subtle. Where the first candidate says “A” new voice, suggesting it would be part of the conversation, the other slogan says, “The” voice. It is firm and solitary. Of course, this is the former English teacher in me probably over-analyzing the statement.
Coupled with this, people running for office are also told that they should have bullet points. Simple ideas that form the backbone of the ever present stump speech. When I did my first ones, I had 18. Like I said, education is complex. However, I shrunk it to five things. Recently, I added a sixth.
Again, we are all sort of guilty of doing this. One of my opponents has four points. It is a total of ten words. Of course, it does go further into depth. Well, 69 more words. My last blog post about education (which I do often so that you can know what I believe and my vision) was 573 words (https://www.andrewtkemp.com/…/21st-century-students-in-20th…). And that was yesterday. My other opponent states on her website, “I was advised that I would need to list at least three talking points on education – the issues and board topics that I would address during my campaign. While I can understand that this could make the campaign easier, please don’t expect me to take that approach.” So, we don’t even get that.
Why is this important? Like I said before, we like simplicity. We like comfort. We like things we recognize. But, is this the reason to vote for someone? Having lots of signs and having lots of meetings means one thing. You have money to do it. This stuff is expensive. And it gets your name out there. Heck, maybe I am lucky that you are seeing Kemp signs everywhere even though it is not me.
Please don’t get me wrong. I have a great amount of respect for the other candidates for this office. First, pledging oneself to public service is important and they both should be celebrated for wanting to do so. In addition, giving service to the country is a great sacrifice to make and should be respected. Being a 23 year educator shows a lot of experience in the schools and a solid background in education.
Campaigning is difficult. It takes time. It is draining. You have to put yourself out into the world knowing that you are going to be judged for what you do. And for what you don’t do. Your words will be analyzed. Your past will be investigated. Everything you say and post will factor into the equation.
But, it isn’t simple. Nor should it be treated as such. Living in a democracy is complicated. It takes effort. You have to pay attention. You have to work at it. With only 10% of the eligible voters coming out to vote for this office in the last election, it seems that we have a lot of work together to make our democratic democracy.
My name is Andrew Kemp. I am a candidate for the Columbia County School Board, District. 3.
Early voting starts on April 30.
Don't forget to vote for Andrew Kemp for Columbia County School School Board, District 3.
With the exception of a year, I have been a teacher or a student for my entire life. I have taught on many different levels. I have been a middle school teacher (okay, for one semester for student teaching...because of this, I have a profound respect for middle school teachers), high school, undergraduates and graduate students. I have coached soccer in youth leagues and high school. Education is in my blood.