Thursday, September 14, 2023

Politics and Public Education

When it comes to education, are you on the Right or the Left? Are you liberal or conservative? GOP or Dem?

And what do any of those questions even mean?

Full disclosure: I'm not an close student of political taxonomies. I most often vote Dem, but not always, and I'm often not very happy about it. In the education debate space, I've often been labeled a progressive, but I'm not honestly certain what that means, exactly. If I were going to claim a label for myself, it would probably be humanist (but not the evil secular type). 

The political landscape in the US has been pretty clearly mapped out when it comes to Dem vs. GOP. But when you look more closely, that doesn't always map out perfectly. NY favors Democrats--as long as they act a lot like Republicans. In Oklahoma, everyone is a Republican, but we've seen some big fights between members of Your Father's GOP and the MAGA GOP. This stuff shifts around over time ("We are the party of Lincoln" is the dumbest argument the GOP ever makes for itself). 

But when it comes to education in general and ed reform in particular, mapping out the political labels against the various reform positions has always been difficult, and remains so.

Take Common Core. Was that supported by either the Left or the Right? Jeb Bush thought he was going to get to the White House running on education in general with a good dose of national standardy CCSS, and he had to slink away from the Core. The Obama/Duncan administration backed the Core, and the teachers' unions climbed on board, too. And everyone who supported the Core took heavy fire from their own side of the political spectrum (and blamed them on the other side of the spectrum).

Charter schools? Fans on both the Left and the Right, and actually the Far Right only ever cared about them as a way to move the overtone window. Once vouchers were seriously in play, many on the Far Right lost their charter love.

Then we have all the people and groups that don't really map onto Left/Right or GOP/Dem. Democrats for Education Reform are a fine example of reformsters masking as liberal Democrats, but while they considered Republicans their "natural allies," I don't really know how they vote. Michelle Freaking Rhee was a Democrat. And while much of the attack on public education has come from the GOP on the right, conservatives also include the people who have a natural inclination to preserve and protect established institutions, like public schools. And where do we put the people who complain because school ought to be teaching cursive and Latin and generally operating like they were Back In My Day? 

And to further muddy the waters we have neo-liberals, those folks who believe that everything works best when it is taken away from government and operated by private business. Neo-liberals can dress up as either party since they support both important social services and having those services provided by some private business. Then we have Libertarians, who oppose government doing much of anything and favor dismantling public education. 

The Free Marketeers are mostly from the right. The folks who argue that to achieve social justice and upward mobility is through a complete re-creation of public education come mostly from the left. Many GOP politicians have attacked public education. Democrats may not have attacked as often, but they seem to lack the language or will to defend it. 

Bottom line. When you say you want to have an education conversation with people on the right, left, and middle, I have no idea what that might actually mean. It could be a roomful of people who all want to dismantle public ed, or a bunch of people who want to protect and preserve it. 

Saying someone is on the right can be shorthand for a reformster (I've used it myself), and yeah, if you're wearing a MAGA cap, I can probably guess where you are on education, but at the same time, saying someone is on the left regarding education is meaningless. 

When all is said and done (actually, while it's being said and done), I'd rather talk about the thing itself rather than trying to figure out what accurate political label I should put on the thing. Bad education policy is bad education policy, wherever it came from. The map of positions on public education does not map at all perfectly onto the map of political tendencies. 

1 comment:

  1. To me, as a Progressive, my politics regarding education means I'm for student-centered learning, which means respecting each student as an individual; using cognitive learning theory to find the ways to teach that work best for everyone, along with the ways that take into account unique learning styles; and having small class sizes in order to give sufficient individual attention to each student and to facilitate creating a classroom community where everyone feels like they belong.