Friday, August 29, 2008

Democratic National Convention and Education

The Democratic National Convention finished last night, and many would agree that it was a successful convention. Top billing on the talking points were foreign policy, the economy, health care, character and judgment, as well as the environment... all being issues the Democrats feel they can use to win in November.

However, education once again was not a prominent issue. Obama did lay out a specific proposal towards education amongst his other proposals, but beyond that, education was a fleeting reference in a litany of other items. Below are references to education from the key speakers:

Barack Obama-
Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don't have that chance. I'll invest in early childhood education. I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American - if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Hillary Clinton- create a world class education system and make college affordable again.

Joe Biden-

Michelle Obama- make sure every child in this nation gets a world-class education all the way from preschool to college

Bill Clinton-
Everywhere, in rich and poor countries alike, hardworking people need good jobs; secure, affordable healthcare, food, and energy; quality education for their children; and economically beneficial ways to fight global warming.

Al Gore-
...enact policies that are pro-choice, pro-education and pro-family...

John Kerry-

Tom Harkin-

That is a lot of firepower and air time to get very little for education. There were other speakers who hit the theme of education more heavily, but they didn't have prominent time slots. NEA's Reg Weaver spoke early Monday evening, when viewership was basically nil, even on cable.

What does this say about the issue of education? It could say quite a few different things, actually. Education is always listed as one of the issues that Americans are most interested in, but the irony is Americans are not concerned about education, even though most people aren't raving about NCLB. Perhaps the Democrats feel this is not a winning issue. Perhaps they feel their position only resonates with those whose votes are already sewn up. Perhaps they are not interested in the issue. Perhaps education isn't "pressing" enough like headline-grabbing economy, fuel prices, and the war.

Whatever the reason, it is disappointing. More appalling is that the Republican party's position on education is even worse... McCain's is, by and large, non-existent. I personally thought that Kerry did not exploit the issue enough in 2004, and we appear heading for a repeat performance here. Bottom line... if the Democratic party is barely paying lip service to education, Americans invested in education haven't made it an issue, and they need to, or their work is being marginalized.

There needs to be a re-prioritization. McCain and Obama will have to know all the intricacies of the Iraq War and economic theory. They should have to know the intricacies of curriculum standards, quality assessment, and research-based strategies that work. Politicians can't be given a pass on this, giving the usual decree of "world-class schools" and leaving the details to colleagues.

The question becomes how do we make this an issue? Educators have to become more vocal, more worldly. They have to develop a bigger news presence. In this flattened world, they need their voices out their on blogs and microblogs, where they can steer the issues. They need to cross over and network with other corporate worlds so they are aware of the realities of education. They need to make close connections with parents, and when the timing is right, talk about what resources are needed from our government to truly help their children. Education makes for boring headlines in the newspapers, but hits close to home when you start to look at your own kids.

Unfortunately, I don't have the answers. We seem to run in tight circles, schmoozing with other educators, or perhaps we like to dissociate that part of our lives. I wish I knew. I feel like our millions of kids in the US are voiceless in presidential elections, and it shouldn't be that way.

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