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Paul Lauter is an emeritus professor of literature at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He is general editor of the Heath Anthology of American Literature.
“Why have Democrats been supporting a process that is tearing the heart out of public education?
“There seem to me to be two critical answers. First, the Democrats are very attached to the views of the mainstream civil rights organizations, which have continued to back high-stakes testing. Perhaps those organizations believe that high-stakes testing, reporting of “failing” students and teachers, closing down of schools, substitution of profit-making charters for public education, and the rest will somehow transform the segregated, feeble education provided in most schools of poverty. One would think that after all these years of “No Child Left Behind—Except Ours” they would arrive at another agenda: like joining activist students in demanding full-funding of public schools, enabling them to continue as community centers, supporting (and decently paying) teachers, and the like. Is it cynical to ask whether the organizations pay too much attention to those, including those in the federal government, who fund the attacks on public education?
“Second, the Democrats, for good historical reasons, have been too attached to establishing policy priorities through national elections and legislation, and federal agencies. After all, “States Rights” for years cloaked racist and retrograde local policies. Civil Rights activists therefore tried to move court cases from state to federal jurisdictions; appealed to federal farm bureaus to challenge racist state and local policies regarding support of black and Hispanic farmers and farm workers; and opposed efforts of states like Texas to impose backward ideas on nationally-circulated textbooks (think the Texas Book Depository), and the like. And they have turned to the federal government to fund schools of poverty functionally abandoned by state and local governments. So it’s no surprise that Democrats have paid far more attention to presidential races and too little to local politics; the results of the 2010 and 2014 elections show what a disaster that has been. What, then, to do?
“Republicans are, on the whole, clearer about their policy priority: substitute private for public education. That has the virtue, from their perspective, of getting rid of experienced (aka “expensive”) teachers and their unions, utilizing the idealism of Teach for America and other short-term recruits, and—above all—providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to turn schools into profit centers. And it fits the Reaganist—and quite stupid—ideology that says government is always the problem and never the solution. One would like to be able to turn from that agenda to positive alternatives fostered by Democrats; instead of which we get Murphy, Cuomo, Rahm and Arnie.
“So, yes, good schools, schools as centers for learning and community, will have to be fought for locally and regionally. With the support of institutions like this blog, and other organizations. And, one would hope, eventually politicians who have detached themselves sufficiently from the past to create a future.”