San Antonio Professor Uses Lessons From European Troubles To Teach American Politics

Andrew Sanders loves graduation day.

There is a sense of pride as he watches students, dressed in caps and robes, walk across the stage and clutch engraved diplomas of achievement and sacrifice. But what really moves her is seeing the surge of excitement from the families.

“That’s what keeps you coming back,” Sanders said, “seeing the impact of what you do.”

Later, after the crowd subsides and the cheers die down, Sanders prepares for another semester teaching students about their right to have a say in their future. Lessons he learned from life are not on his agenda, such as the need for common decency in these polarized times.

An assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Sanders teaches in the US government and the government of Texas. The veteran of hardwood lessons and learning rooms brings a rich life experience to his students.

“Raising awareness is my job,” said Sanders, 41. “To make sure young people in San Antonio know what’s going on locally, but also understand national issues.”

His path to academia and athletics began in Edinburgh, Scotland. Living in the suburbs, below the city center, Sanders’ parents encouraged their three children to play sports.

The trading cards gave 11-year-old Sanders his first glimpse of NBA and high-flying superstar Michael Jordan. He remembers buying a pair of Air Jordan 8s that hit shoe stores in 1993 – Sanders wears a size 16 shoe. But the player whose jersey he bought and admired was Charles Barkley of the Phoenix Suns.

“He’s always interesting,” Sanders said. “I liked that he was like another guy.”

Sanders played rugby at Boroughmuir High School until jarring scrums resulted in a broken finger and collarbone and frozen hands in the winter.

So Sanders embraced the sport suited to his size. By then, the teenager had reached 6 feet and 8 inches in height.

Andrew Sanders, assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M University-San Antonio is pictured on the San Antonio campus on February 10. Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, the 6ft 8in teacher has played for semi-professional basketball leagues in Ireland alongside players from the United States who have shared the realities of life in their country of origin that Sanders now calls “home”.

Josie Norris / Staff Photographer

Sanders was 17 when he tried out for Edinburgh Napier University’s basketball team. It was not a good experience. The other players ridiculed him for still learning the game.

Sanders did not return there.

But his love for the game remained. He was stretching in a gym near his part-time job when Maurizio Marroni – coach of the Edinburgh Tigers, who are in a Scottish basketball league – asked him if he was playing. Marroni signed Sanders to the team and helped develop his skills.

During these early years, Sanders pursued a career as a teacher, like his mother, brother, and sister. His goal: centuries of turmoil between Britain and Ireland. Sanders’ interest was spurred by his childhood in the UK in the 1980s, when the conflict in Northern Ireland and related deaths featured on the evening news.

While attending Queen’s University Belfast, Sanders transferred to the Irish Super League, playing for Belfast Star of the Sea. Sanders’ African-American teammates shared the realities of their country – a place the Scottish striker only knew from TV shows.

He received his MA in Irish Politics from Queen’s University Belfast and earned a Ph.D. in politics and international studies.

Sanders also participated in PeacePlayers, a program that uses basketball as a tool for social recognition. The group worked with young Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland to build community and bridge decades of differences.

“You see you are planting positive seeds,” Sanders said. “That’s the rewarding side.”

He has written three books: “Inside the IRA: Dissident Republicans and the War for Legitimacy”, “The Long Peace Process: The United States of America and Northern Ireland, 1960-2008” and “Times of Troubles: Britain’s War in Northern Ireland ,” with Ian S. Wood.

After playing with the Scottish Rocks and 18 months of teaching, the educator and his wife, Heather, got jobs in Seattle in 2009. Three years later, the couple moved to Houston for a three-year stint. After stints as a visiting professor in the city and a six-month commute to Killeen, Sanders received a job offer from A&M-San Antonio. Impressed with the South Side campus and technology, the family moved to Alamo City in 2016.

A 22-year Air Force veteran, Vincent T. Davis embarked on a second career as a journalist and found his calling. By observing and listening to San Antonio, he finds intriguing stories to tell about ordinary people. He shares his stories with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.

Sanders’ perception of the United States has changed a lot. After visiting 43 states, he became aware of the country’s vast expanse and political climate.

“I am an American citizen,” Sanders said. “I can see good and bad from a slightly different point of view.”

His friend Nan Palmero said he learned something new every time they spoke.

“One of the things I appreciate about Andrew is his expanded perspective on the politics of the world,” Palmero said. “He’s a scholar who isn’t from here, but he’s integrated into the community and cares about it.”

This semester, Sanders’ classes are online due to security concerns related to COVID-19.

In his class, he compares the centuries of turmoil in Britain and Ireland to the problems of an increasingly politicized America.

Sanders’ curriculum is about culturally responsive teaching — where each student shares their experiences to help the class learn the lesson.

Their first report is to identify their local representatives, a local issue of concern and engage the right representative on the subject. Sanders often invites city council members and state officials to speak to his students, who come from diverse backgrounds and neighborhoods in the city, including the Southwest Corridor, Alamo Heights, and the Northeast Side . Sanders said if a student is a Trump-supporting Republican or an AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) supporting a progressive Democrat, they’ll get something out of the mission.

“If I can get my students to hold their reps accountable, I think that makes a difference,” Sanders said. “You can see in the newspapers that the students are actually learning, that they are actually empowered.”

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