Near Silence on Education at First Democratic Debate





That’s how many questions CNN anchors asked presidential hopefuls about America’s public schools at the first Democratic Debate.

Imagine if Anderson Cooper and company had been silent on Climate Change. The candidates would have brought it up anyway. Bernie Sanders actually did talk about the threat to the environment when asked a question about national defense.

Imagine if moderators had no questions about gun violence. Candidates competed with each other to demonstrate which took a stronger stance against the National Rifle Association.

Imagine if no one asked about finance reform. On that stage each candidate tried to position his or herself as the new sheriff of Wall Street.

But when it comes to one of the most important issues of the day – our children’s struggling schools – the media apparently thought it was of no interest to the viewing public.

Admittedly both Hillary Clinton and Sanders briefly brought it up when asked about other things.

Clinton said we need universal pre-kindergarten and good schools. However, she neglected to say what those good schools would look like.

It’s almost like saying nothing at all. EVERYONE wants good schools – Even dunderheads like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump! But their ideas of good schools differ greatly from that of most parents, teachers and students. McCharter schools for the poor and Cadillac campuses for the rich isn’t exactly what real progressives have in mind.

And universal pre-k? Great! But that’s kind of the flavor of the month. Who really disagrees that we should help toddlers prepare for school? It’s like asking, “Who wants ice cream?” in a room full of little kids on a hot day. EVERYONE wants ice cream – even the kids who are lactose intolerant!

Sanders took a second in a diatribe about social services to mention the need to fund schools. However, he didn’t say a thing about equity or if that funding would have strings attached. President Obama talked about funding schools, too, when he was running for president in 2008. Once he got into office those education dollars came at the cost of accepting untested and developmentally inappropriate Common Core State Standards. And equity meant closing poor schools to save them.

I wonder if CNN would have felt more pressure to ask even a single token education question if the largest national teachers unions hadn’t already endorsed Clinton. Both the American Federation of Teachers representing 1.5 million members and the National Education Association representing 3 million members have backed Clinton.

Well, leadership has. Member outreach, polling, even voting by the organizations largest representative boards has been almost entirely absent.

But now that teachers have been pigeonholed in Clinton’s camp, what’s the point of asking education questions? In the public eye educators have already chosen their candidate. Why would they need to hear Clinton’s thoughts on education policy? Why hear her opponents thoughts? Their minds are made up.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues to run roughshod over teachers concerns. For 7 years education professionals from all walks of life have complained about the administration’s failing school policies and its buffoonish education secretary Arne Duncan. But now that Duncan is leaving, the President replaces him with John King – ex-New York State Commissioner of Education who enraged parents so much he was run out of the state on a rail.

The media just doesn’t care about public education. Nine times out of ten if they even print a story about schools, it’s a puff piece spin doctoring a school reform policy that isn’t working, never has been working and is – in fact – making things much worse for our nation’s students. Otherwise it’s an expose of how teachers can’t make these horrendous policies work so its their fault and don’t even glance at the ballooning child poverty rate – that’s completely irrelevant to the issue of all these lazy teachers who can’t be fired because we’d have to prove they’re bad first.

And what of the candidates? Do they care about public education?

The Democrats say they do and then zip their lips. They might make positive noises about preschool or universities – especially when it comes to funding. But they have next to nothing to say about K-12 schools. When the issue comes up, they deflect to toddlers or the college campus.

Meanwhile Republicans can’t contain their glee about mentioning teachers during debates and stump speeches. They want prospective voters to know that conservative types like them want to punch teachers in the face. During the first Republican debate, at least half of the candidates in that crowded boasted how much they stood up to the teachers unions.

And so there you have it, folks. That’s what passes for a substantive Democratic debate of all the important issues of the day. Now voters can make an informed decision in the primaries. There will be a few more debates, but they’ll probably be no different than this one.

And if you actually care about public schools, if you have children in the system, or derive your livelihood from it, or even if you just don’t want to live in a society of uneducated dummies – you’d be better served using Tarot cards to determine where the Democrats stand on this issue.

NOTE: This article also was quoted extensively on Diane Ravitch’s blog and published by and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.


15 thoughts on “Near Silence on Education at First Democratic Debate

  1. Our unions certainly dropped the ball. Maybe we need to fire the unions and get new ones. The present ones’ leaders are too much a part of the power structure. It might help some if everyone who could, withheld the part of the dues that are for political purposes, but it’s really a problem.

    I can’t say I’m disappointed none of the candidates talked about K-12 public education because I didn’t expect it, especially not in this first debate. Sure, even though there weren’t any questions about it, they could have woven it into their answers and statements if it were an important part of their platform, but it’s not on their radar.

    I think the Resistance is making some headway — CCSS has not been uniformly adopted, many states have rejected PAARC, it looks like the new ESEA will put some brakes on what the USDOE can do — but other factors have also had influence. And so much damage has been done at the state level, and culture changes at the bureaucratic level happen so slowly, at this rate it’s going to take another 10 years and the complete implosion of the system to really turn the tide, which is really depressing. It would really help to have a political ally.

    Bernie is the only possibility I see for a potential political ally. He’s been talking about the same issues for 40 years, and it’s hard for him to widen his focus, but his issues dovetail with ours, if we could only bring his attention to them. It took BLM being “disruptive” to get him to focus more on changing the criminal justice system, but once it got his attention and he saw the need to focus on it, it easily fit in with his platform and the beliefs he’s always had. Disruption goes with his movement; he says we need a revolution of millions of people to change the structure of our society so that it works for everyone.

    The only thing disruptive about our campaign so far is the opt-out movement by parents against standardized testing, and so far it hasn’t really won any battles. Nobody outside our blogosphere seems to be aware of the damage being done by the corruption to the system caused by hedge fund CEOs and for-profit charters. There have been a few articles in mainstream media, but so far it’s like the words have been hitting a wall or an echo chamber.

    How do we bring Bernie’s attention to the urgency of our concerns, and get Democrats to see that K-12 has as many problems and is as important as pre-K and college affordability? Do we have to grab the mic or organize mass demonstrations? Maybe it would help if we all emailed Bernie’s campaign and said that in spite of the unions’ endorsement of Hillary, if he addressed our concerns he’d certainly get our votes. And also emailed or tweeted questions en masse to the channels that host the debates. Bernie likes facts and figures, and we have to convince him that unregulated charters are hurting, not helping, the cause of education and social justice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steven: If Republicans had talked about PreK-12 education–as opposed to the Dems last not– it’s only due to the fact that they’ve had more than one debate. I have suggested (& ALL of us should, as well–quite certain that this is NOT going to come from the AFT or NEA leadership–after all, they wouldn’t want HRC to have to address school privatization, “standardized” testing or PARC, given as to where her campaign $$$$$ comes from, & it goes w/o saying, that she was a part of the Obama Administration–that the next debate focus PRIMARILY on Pre K-12 education. (Again–if Biden throws his hat in–given the fact that his brother runs a chain of charter schools & that, on the day of Arne’s resignation, he pledged some mighty big buck$ to charter $chool$–ours will most certainly be a topic to be avoided).
    Even when/if it is debated, anything HRC says would have to be taken w/a grain of salt–no doubt she’d act in the very same manner as her former boss–both are DINOs-Dems in Name Only, & both have taken BIG money from enemies of public ed., to be sure).
    In defense of Bernie, the campaign has been asking people to write to them with questions/concerns WE want addressed. As opposed to the fruitless letter-writing (totally ignored) to Obama, I can assure you that writing to Bernie WILL make a difference, as he is–as he said last night–the only candidate NOT taking corporate donations. Therefore, he’s beholden to no one but the 99% (& that’s why his war chest is doing well–as I’ve always said, my good math teachers taught me that 99% is greater then 1%, & if 99% of the people give, it will at least match what the others have)–& that’s US! So, please contact Bernie 2016–EVERYONE!–& let him know what we need. Yes, WE can…yes, WE have & yes, YES WE WILL!
    Bernie 2016–of the people, by the people & for the people & this especially will invalidate the need for the phrase “other people’s children” into ALL our children getting what they deserve.


  3. When you are complicit through silence, you are no better than the corporate criminals stealing taxpayer dollars to fund charter schools or mis-directing that public money into the national testocracy produced by USDOE policies. Every politician shares some blame here, not one has spoken out against the failed, test-and-punish, pseudo-accountability reform movement. Not one.


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