So this is how it's going to be. The GOP is going to have a cartoon discussion about education, focusing on how to use charters to dismantle public ed and on how to find wacky ways to pretend that we're not havin' that Common Core stuff. And the Democratic line on public ed? The Clinton campaign locked in on their line months ago-- stick to the safe-and-easy topics of universal pre-K and accessible, cheaper-somehow college education.
That mantra is comfortable and easy. Plain folks can listen to it and hear, "Aww, more pre-school for those precious cute little kids, and a chance for young Americans to make something of themselves," while corporate backers, thirsty hedge funders, and ambitious reformsters can hear, "Expanding markets! Ka-ching!!"
The $64.50 question is, "Would education be on the front burner if Clinton had not already locked up the AFT and NEA endorsements?" Because as it is, we aren't on the front burner, the back burner, the bunsen burner, or anywhere near the stove. Well, hey-- Lily Eskelsen-Garcia suggested that once we were all in with the campaign, Clinton would be more inclined to hear our message and pay attention to it. What did Eskelsen-Garcia have to say about the debate last night?
Really? We don't want to hear anything about the disastrous policies of the last twelve years that have systematically broken down and dismantled American public education and the teaching profession? Dang, but I could have sworn we wanted to hear about that. But I guess now that the union is on Team Clinton, our job is not to hold her feet to the fire so much as it is to give them a little massage and carry some baggage for her so that she can save her strength for other issues. Important issues. Issues that aren't US public education.Education must be part of the convo. We want to hear about universal pre-k, college affordability & opportunity for all students #DemDebate— Lily Eskelsen García (@Lily_NEA) October 14, 2015
Sanders, with his focus on how the rich have commandeered so many parts of our democratic society, is so close to making useful statements about the education debates, but it just doesn't happen. And I'm not sure how somebody helps it happen at this point. And those other guys? Generic Candidates #3-5? I don't know what they think about education, but I suppose now that the education vote is supposedly locked up by Clinton, they won't feel the need to go there.
Bottom line-- US public education, despite the assorted crises associated with it (both fictional and non-fictional) is shaping up to be a non-issue once again in Presidential politics. I would say always a bridesmaid, never a bride, but it's more like always the person hired for a couple of hours to help direct the car parking in the field back behind the reception hall. Or maybe the person who cleans up the reception hall after the bridal party has danced off happily into the night.
If I was harboring any dreams, any spark of hope that maybe this would be our year, that maybe, given everything that has happened, this might be the year that public education somehow became a real campaign issue, that spark has been extinguished, buried, stomped on and drowned in a bucket of tears.
Worst of all-- and this really galls me-- I might owe Campbell Brown an apology. I wrote earlier that no Democratic candidates (and almost no important GOP ones) came to her education summit because they found her irrelevant. And while I'm comfortable with that assessment of her role in education policy debates, there is one other possibility-- when it comes to public education in this country, none of the candidates actually gives a shit. I could believe that nobody went to Brown's parties because they didn't think her summits would be a good setting for a serious discussion about public education. But last night the Democrats had a chance to hold that serious discussion, and they walked right by it.