Superman image by ErikaWittlieb
If there is an upside to this terrible presidential election, it’s that it might serve as a wake-up call:
Help is not coming. Superman is not in mid-costume-change somewhere. Your vote will not summon a genii from the electoral bottle to grant your wish.
This is true for many issues, none more so than education.
Trump’s burning dumpster of a campaign has finally managed to toss out a few words about public education, but we saw the writing on the wall when he selected Mike Pence as his running mate. Pence’s position on public education has always been clear: bust it up, sell the parts, and let some corporate types make a bundle “educating” a select few students while the rest go searching the rubble of the crushed public education system for some possible piece of their future. Oh, and get rid of teachers and their damned unions.
Trump’s education proposal is short but simple:
- More school choice (a.k.a. “open the corporate charter floodgates”).
- Merit pay for teachers (a.k.a. “we’ll pay them just what we think they’re worth and they’ll like it”).
- End tenure (a.k.a. “You’re fired whenever the mood hits me”).
On the Democratic side, there may have been a brief moment of hope when the party’s platform was changed to reflect a more reality-based stand on charter schools. But that never looked like more than a brief course correction. (Besides, no elected President has ever said: “I’m pursuing this policy goal because I feel bound to pursue the ideas listed in my party’s platform.”)
Now comes news that the Clinton transition team will be headed up by Ken Salazar, a well-connected denizen of Washington, D.C.’s revolving door, that magic portal connecting insiders to the private, the public, and the lobbying sectors. The team will also include the current head of the Center for American Progress, Neera Tanden, who took over after original founder John Podesta left to run the Clinton campaign.
Come November, charter school fans and proponents of other flavors of “education reform” will be happy with the results, no matter what they are.
But there is some good news for those of us supporting real public education.
After all—we’ve been shnookered before. Back in 2008, we thought that Barack Obama was going to sweep away the ed-reform disasters we were already struggling with. We went out and stumped for him, called for him, sweated out his heartstopping historic election. And then some time later, we found ourselves under more of the same attack from more of the same people.
This time we know better. Sitting here in August 2016, we already know what battles we’ll be fighting in January 2017.
We know that, come 2017, the White House will be occupied by a friend of guys like Rahm Emanuel and Rick Snyder. We know that no matter who’s President, the policies will favor charter schools, testing, and rhetoric about saving the non-wealthy and non-white students—while simultaneously pursuing policies that cut their schools off at the financial knees.
The tools and tactics of the battle may be affected by the election, but we already know where the battlefields will be.
So let’s start now.
First, remember that the new version of Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the law governing education in this country, throws much of the power back to the state level. The U.S. Department of Education and Congress are still arguing about it, which means there is ample opportunity for states to enter that spirited discussion. Now is an excellent time for folks to get involved on the state level, to provide encouragement to our state leaders to do at least some of the right thing.
We can pay attention to the state-level elections, and get organized right now to find and support people who will help stand up for public education in every state.
In 2008, we just couldn’t wait to see what President Obama would do about public education. In 2016, there is no real question about what our next President is going to do. The question that matters this time is: What we are going to do about it?
Peter Greene has been a classroom secondary English teacher for over thirty-five years. He lives and works in a small town in Northwest Pennsylvania, blogs at Curmudgucation, and is Midwest Regional Progressive Education Fellow.