The Politics of Education

Article excerpt

One of the key differences between Democrats

and Republicans was illustrated during August's

conventions. While there were about 300 members

of the National Education Association

registered as delegates at the Democratic convention,

Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole

used his convention acceptance speech as an occasion to

attack teachers and teacher unions, And while Democrats

talked about the importance of education, Republicans

used their convention as an opportunity to talk about

home schooling.

Education has always been more than reading, writing,

and `rithmetic. From laws that require school attendance to

skirmishes over the curriculum, politics are part of

education. Certainly we see that in the current debates over

affirmative action, with many key cases having come from

the classroom. The Piscataway case, where a white teacher

sued because her equally qualified Black colleague was

retained while she was let go speaks volumes about some of

the assumptions that some teachers have about their

colleagues and about the role race plays in the educational

process. Between President Clinton's shilly shallying about

affirmative action and candidate Dole's abuse of the issue

(not to mention vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp's

absolute reversal on the matter), affirmative action may well

be the "Willie Horton" issue of the 1996 campaign.

Meanwhile, the politicization. of the home school

movement is one way that Republicans can demonstrate

their antipathy for "big government." But while home

schooling works for some people, there are political

underpinnings to this movement. Those parents who say that

they want to control what their children are taught, and the

environment in which they are taught, often behave like

ostriches putting their heads in sand. Some remind me of the

parents who, rather than allow their children to attend

integrated schools, chose to start private academies in the

South.

To be sure, there are many schools that leave much to be

desired, and education does not have a high enough priority

for many politicians. I am writing from Washington, D.C.,

where the Board of Education and the Superintendent of

Schools have so badly mismanaged the educational process

that several schools had to be closed temporarily because

they had not been repaired by the time the fall semester

began. The city's only public university, the University of the

District of Columbia, has had its semester opening delayed because

of a lack of funds. The financial situation in the District of

Columbia is, on one hand, unique, but on the other hand

quite similar to the fiscal situation in other cities. …