Near Silence on Education at First Democratic Debate

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Near Silence on Education at First Democratic Debate

(Photo: Getty)

None.

Null.

Nada.

That’s how many questions CNN anchors asked presidential hopefuls about America’s public schools at the first Democratic Debate.

Imagine if Anderson Cooper and company had been silent on Climate Change. The candidates would have brought it up anyway. Bernie Sanders actually did talk about the threat to the environment when asked a question about national defense.

Imagine if moderators had no questions about gun violence. Candidates competed with each other to demonstrate which took a stronger stance against the National Rifle Association.

Imagine if no one asked about finance reform. On that stage each candidate tried to position his or herself as the new sheriff of Wall Street.

But when it comes to one of the most important issues of the day – our children’s struggling schools – the media apparently thought it was of no interest to the viewing public.

Admittedly both Hillary Clinton and Sanders briefly brought it up when asked about other things.

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Clinton said we need universal pre-kindergarten and good schools. However, she neglected to say what those good schools would look like.

It’s almost like saying nothing at all. EVERYONE wants good schools – Even dunderheads like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump! But their ideas of good schools differ greatly from that of most parents, teachers and students. McCharter schools for the poor and Cadillac campuses for the rich isn’t exactly what real progressives have in mind.

And universal pre-k? Great! But that’s kind of the flavor of the month. Who really disagrees that we should help toddlers prepare for school? It’s like asking, “Who wants ice cream?” in a room full of little kids on a hot day. EVERYONE wants ice cream – even the kids who are lactose intolerant!

Sanders took a second in a diatribe about social services to mention the need to fund schools. However, he didn’t say a thing about equity or if that funding would have strings attached. President Obama talked about funding schools, too, when he was running for president in 2008. Once he got into office those education dollars came at the cost of accepting untested and developmentally inappropriate Common Core State Standards. And equity meant closing poor schools to save them.

I wonder if CNN would have felt more pressure to ask even a single token education question if the largest national teachers unions hadn’t already endorsed Clinton. Both the American Federation of Teachers representing 1.5 million members and the National Education Association representing 3 million members have backed Clinton.

Well, leadership has. Member outreach, polling, even voting by the organizations largest representative boards has been almost entirely absent.

But now that teachers have been pigeonholed in Clinton’s camp, what’s the point of asking education questions? In the public eye educators have already chosen their candidate. Why would they need to hear Clinton’s thoughts on education policy? Why hear her opponents thoughts? Their minds are made up.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues to run roughshod over teachers concerns. For 7 years education professionals from all walks of life have complained about the administration’s failing school policies and its buffoonish education secretary Arne Duncan. But now that Duncan is leaving, the President replaces him with John King – ex-New York State Commissioner of Education who enraged parents so much he was run out of the state on a rail.

The media just doesn’t care about public education. Nine times out of ten if they even print a story about schools, it’s a puff piece spin doctoring a school reform policy that isn’t working, never has been working and is – in fact – making things much worse for our nation’s students. Otherwise it’s an expose of how teachers can’t make these horrendous policies work so its their fault and don’t even glance at the ballooning child poverty rate – that’s completely irrelevant to the issue of all these lazy teachers who can’t be fired because we’d have to prove they’re bad first.

And what of the candidates? Do they care about public education?

The Democrats say they do and then zip their lips. They might make positive noises about preschool or universities – especially when it comes to funding. But they have next to nothing to say about K-12 schools. When the issue comes up, they deflect to toddlers or the college campus.

Meanwhile Republicans can’t contain their glee about mentioning teachers during debates and stump speeches. They want prospective voters to know that conservative types like them want to punch teachers in the face. During the first Republican debate, at least half of the candidates in that crowded boasted how much they stood up to the teachers unions.

And so there you have it, folks. That’s what passes for a substantive Democratic debate of all the important issues of the day. Now voters can make an informed decision in the primaries. There will be a few more debates, but they’ll probably be no different than this one.

And if you actually care about public schools, if you have children in the system, or derive your livelihood from it, or even if you just don’t want to live in a society of uneducated dummies – you’d be better served using Tarot cards to determine where the Democrats stand on this issue.

Steven Singer

Steven Singer is a husband, father, teacher, blogger and education advocate. He often writes at his own blog here.

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