*Editor’s Note: republished from Today’s Catholic Teacher
written by Dr. Charles J. O’Malley
In last month’s post, I used the “L” word – not the one that was used in the last Presidential election – but the word “LOBBYIST“.
In so doing, I probably conjured visions of Catholic school teachers and administrators prowling the corridors of the state capitol building, chewing away on oversize cigars, with scheming, conniving leers on their countenances. Let me assure you – as a former teacher and administrator in Catholic schools, and as a former lobbyist on behalf of Catholic schools – that is not the case.
A good lobbyist provides accurate, useful information to legislators and legislative staff. This information is often the basis for a legislator making his or her decision upon a particular piece of legislation. Therefore, the responsibility of a good lobbyist is to develop a relationship with a legislator which is built upon trust and confidence.
In those areas where state Catholic conference offices operate, undoubtedly this type of relationship has been established. And. frequently, your diocesan superintendent’s office has been working diligently to establish such a relationship. But you can be an extremely valuable asset in this ongoing effort.
HOW? BE AWARE!
In all the civic/citizenship classes we as students have taken, we are taught that our own personal awareness and involvement are important if we wish to preserve our freedom. While that may have seemed to be “just book learnin’” at the time we were in school, it is a necessity today. Local papers, education publications and bulletins from the state legislature which frequently update legislation of concern to you, should be part of your daily readings and discussions – and the topics of “bull sessions” with your students. Too frequently, you receive “to arms!” calls from your leadership, asking you to have your students’ parents contact their lawmakers on a particular issue – an issue about which you or the parents have little or no knowledge. It is difficult to make an impression on a lawmaker or staff person if you don’t know what’s going on.
BLOW YOUR OWN HORN!
Catholic schools have historically turned out well-educated, well-rounded students with sound moral values – including humility. However, unless that humility is tempered a little bit, there may not be a Catholic school system. If you don’t “blow your own horn”, no one else will!
Encourage key policy makers and/or their staff to visit your classroom. Have them discuss with your students (and parents) “how they made it and what their education did for them. Have them judge debates and speech or essay contests, or preside over “mock” court procedures, mini-legislatures, or present them with awards for their contributions to your school or community. Somehow, reporters and photographers seem to find out about these presentations – and, lo and behold, St. Good School is generating favorable publicity. And, your lawmaker knows about your school – and Catholic schools in general, when legislation comes before them. If the legislation could be damaging to Catholic schools, they can contain or eliminate the damage. If it is beneficial, they can serve as “champions” on your behalf.
UTILIZE YOUR RESOURCES!
Alumni(ae) and parents of your students are fantastic resources. Many of them are probably “politically” active, or serve as staff to lawmakers and cabinet officials, or have served on political campaigns for those now in office. They know the “system” and how it works. What they may not know is what you are up to or what the needs of the school are – or how a particular piece of legislation may impact you. Keep in contact. Do not wait until the 12th hour before bringing them into the fray. They may resent the fact that you are placing them in a difficult position without ample preparation. And, they’ll be reluctant to help you next time around. Thank them – publicly, if possible – whether you win or lose.
These are just a few uncomplicated ways that you as a classroom teacher or administrator can help maintain your school and the tradition of Catholic education. You do not have to prowl the legislative chambers, holding the oversize cigar. You do not have to spend lots of money to promote your issue. All you have to do is to remain aware and knowledgeable, let people know how good a job you are doing, and utilize the vast resources you and your colleagues have at your disposal. However, if you really want to get active, we’ll have some suggestions for you in the next post.
Good luck in this battle which must be won!