Thursday, August 31, 2017

Back To School Bloviating

Flipping through twitter this morning, and lo and behold, my governor Tom Wolf has offered some advice for the start of school:

In case you can't see it, the advice is:

1) Get plenty of sleep.

2) Eat a good breakfast.

3) Be nice.

And he encourages Pennsylvania to have a good school year.

It's easy to just slide by this little slice of conventional, almost cliche advice, but this is where I am-- I have come to really appreciate a politician who sticks to what he knows. As a father and practicing human being, Wolf hits on three good pieces of advice that we have reason to believe he actually knows something about.

Compare this to some of the other back-to-school gubernatorial messages of the past. Like Pat McCrory of North Carolina spouting his support for teachers and his pledge to give them a raise (both, as it turns out, rather counter-factual).

Here's Gov. Steve Bullock exhorting students to "make Montana proud," and telling them to pay attention and do their homework because "it pays off." So remember kids-- there's no intrinsic rewards to education and it's not about you, anyway. Louisiana teachers got a cheery greeting from First Lady Donna Edwards that said she knows they're working hard and spending their own money, and thank you, and we've totally got your back. Five years ago Scott Walker and the Missus talked about their support for teachers and students, and how it was great that teachers were helping "get the skills they need for a career or to move on to college," because lots of these messages are just one more chance to plug the same old policy ideas.

Some messages are personal and heartfelt. Michigan's Lt. Governor Brian Calley, father of a child with autism, last year offered an encouragement to students to make friends and reach out to those who are sometimes left out.

But mostly the back-to-school format is employed as it was used by former Delaware Governor Jack Markell in 2015. It's just an opening clause. "As we welcome students back to school, I am optimistic about the year ahead... blah blah blah launch again into plugging my school reform ideas."

In fact, given the number of reformy officials who vow that they are implementing their ideas For The Children, it's remarkable how hard it is to find instances of those same officials actually addressing children, encouraging children or generally using children as anything other than a hook on which to hang their policy talking points. That is perhaps a step better than Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump, neither of whom had anything of substance to offer about the start of the school year. President's Obama and Bush I addressed school children directly during their terms (both offered remarks loosely connected to the idea of personal responsibility, and both took grief from the opposing party because, of course, politicians couldn't just say, "Gee, Mr. President, thanks for taking a direct interest in our nation's youths!")

Despite all the noise about For The Children and the please to stop politicizing education, it is remarkable how few politicians are able to put those two simple principles to work at an obvious time like back-to-school season. Talk is cheap, actions are louder, and yes, this is not That Big a Deal, but I add it to the list of actions and inactions that tell me that for all their talk, few elected officials really give a rat's posterior about education as anything other than a political game piece, a source of money for hungry corporate interests, and a nice touch for their brand.

So it's not a huge deal, but Tom Wolf's "Eat and sleep well, and be nice" struck me as a fresh, pleasant message for the children of Pennsylvania.

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