I just finished transcribing Trump's education screed for 2024. You can read that, and my reactions to it here, but in this post, I want to talk about what Trump demonstrates about the political discourse around education, about what the folks who want to disrupt, defund and dismantle public education have that the defenders of public education do not.
I do not imagine that Donald Trump has more than the barest understanding of what he's saying in his education policy videos, if that. His writer has strung together a bunch of the prevailing language and talking points in the right wing education space. At least5 I assume it was a writer, or a team of writers, but actually, it could just as easily have been ChatGPT, which simply takes the language that is already out in the world and remixes it.
And that's all his speech is-- a remix.
And he's not alone. We hear the same education policy word salad from politician after politician. I have talked to more than a few pro-public ed activists who express frustration because when they talked to a politician, those politicians had little actual understanding of the actual issues. Pro-public education activists are bringing pointy little facts to a talking point artillery fight.
The thing is, folks taking a right wing position don't have to either know or care what they're talking about.
A well-oiled machine regularly generates, polishes, and disperses talking points on any number of subjects. Think tanks and advocacy groups come up with some angles to pitch, and then it's run through the media outlets, talking head after talking head, like rocks through a stone polisher.
So if someone jockeying for office or power or just some press decides that Issue X is hot right now, he doesn't have to do research or dig into the issues or try to get a handle on anything. The language is already right there, ready and waiting. Field tested. All he has to do is pick it up and use it.
I'm convinced that one big reasons Democrats are by and large such terrible defenders of public education is that they have lost the language. The drum starte3d beating thirty years ago with the made-to-order hatchet job of A Nation at Risk. Way back in the No Child Left Behind days, they gave up the language or pride and accomplishment when it came to public education, and just kept on giving up more and more of it. I'll never forget Dennis van Roekel's betrayal as NEA president, responding to criticism of Common Core by saying, "Well, then what would you do instead," as if the implicit Core assumption that schools were failing couldn't possibly be challenged.
And of course by the time of Obama-Duncan, Democrats had completely given up the language of support for public education and adopted the conservative language of attacking the institution. The detente between free marketeers and social justice folks and neo-libs required everyone to adopt the language of disrupt, defund and dismantle. When Trump ascended, it sort of hit Dems that maybe they needed some sort of language to oppose his policies, but they simply didn't have any. They still don't, and in many cases, they have no real will to.
How many political leaders are actually studying up on the issues they address or run for office touting? I have no idea, but my sense is that it's not most, probably not many, and barely even several. Nor do I think any of them have a bunch of time to be taught the issues, particularly when the issues are complicated.
That Democratic fecklessness isn't limited to education, of course, but the loss of language around the support of public schools is particularly noticeable. And I'm not sure it gets fixed easily. In the meantime, anyone who wants to run for office on the far right can get a quick sheet of tested talking points emailed to him and be ready for a hard-hitting video full of nonsense soup.