Many of us have wondered whether President Obama hears the voices of teachers. Many have wondered whether he understands that educators–not only teachers, but principals and superintendents–despise Race to the Top and see it as a calculated effort to undermine professionalism and advance the privatization agenda. And many have wondered whether the President knows that he may be jeopardizing his re-election by turning off an important part of his base.
I would add to all this wondering that a lot of us will have to swallow hard, forget our passion for education, and vote for Obama. The alternative is too alarming to contemplate.
Mark Naison, who blogs regularly, has written an important column about these issues, which I reprint here:
How to Lose a Close Election
Virtually ever poll now has President Obama and Mitt Romney embroiled in an extremely close race. The President could very well win this election; but he could also lose. And if he does lose, I will have to go back to something I first started saying nearly three years- namely that turning off the nation’s teachers with educational policies which silence their voice, and put them under extreme stress, is not only bad for the nation’s schools, it could cripple the President’s re-election efforts.
Many of you have read some of my blog posts which made this argument, and have seen the “Dump Duncan” petition which I helped to draft which called on the President to remove his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, incorporate the nation’s teachers into Education Policy discussions, and stop requiring schools to ratchet up the number of standardized tests to receive federal funding.
But what you haven’t seen, or known about, is my private efforts to engage people close the president in conversation about teachers disillusionment, efforts which were totally unsuccessful. The President’s inner circle, from what I could gather, refused to bend on support for Race to the Top and Secretary Duncan. They were not only convinced that these policies would end up improving the nation’s schools; they felt that the political gains to be made in terms of support from large funders and influential journalists was far greater than any losses that would occur in terms of teacher enthusiasm, particularly since they knew the largest teachers unions would support the President no matter what policies he chose to implement.
Now, at crunch time, when it’s too late to change course, I can tell you that this judgment was a severe miscalculation. Not only have the President’s policies failed to narrow testing gaps by race and class, they have contributed to teacher morale in the nation to be the lowest it has been since pollsters began measuring this trait. But the political consequences may have been even more serious than the educational ones. Most teachers will probably end up voting for the President, but from what I have seen, in both New York and around the nation, they will not be manning phone banks, canvassing in their neighborhoods, travelling to swing states on the weekends and generally giving time, money and energy to assure the President’s election the way they did in 2008.
Many pundits attribute the Obama victory in 2008 to an incredibly strong “ground game” composed of huge numbers of volunteers, as well as paid staff, working to get out the vote in battleground states. Many of those individuals, including me, my wife, and many of my friends, were teachers, professors and school administrators. During this election, I know of few, if any educators putting in that kind of heroic effort, almost entirely because they are feeling betrayed by the President, indeed, by the entire Democratic Party, on educational issues, even though they support the President’s positions on reproductive freedom, gay rights, taxation and medical care.
There is no way of knowing whether the phenomenon I am describing is will be a “game changer” in this election. But based on what I have seen in 2008 and in this campaign, there is a chance it could be. And if it is, the Obama brain trust has no one to blame but themselves, because they have had ample opportunity to change course, and indeed have been pleased with by many of their supporters to do just that.
October 22, 2012
Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
“If you Want to Save America’s Public Schools: Replace Secretary of Education Arne Duncan With a Lifetime Educator.” http://dumpduncan.org/