This essay originally was published on TruthDig.
The last question in the final presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama had to do with what moderator Bob Schieffer suggested might be the most important issue of all: education. Both candidates expressed a deep need to reform education, and both conceded–as did their vice presidential candidates in their own debate–that the federally mandated program No Child Left Behind, embraced by many Democrats and Republicans, was underfunded. While this may be the consensus of legislators, I could not help but be left with feelings of distrust and discouragement.
Rather than approach the challenge and reward of education with the promise of cooperation, the presidential contenders offered a recipe calling for charter schools and school vouchers and an incentive for parents to move their students out of “failing schools,” a decidedly competitive approach to education. This divisive strategy can only lead to a greater divide between the haves and the have-nots. This is not what Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall had in mind when he successfully argued in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case fifty-four years ago that “separate but equal” can never truly exist in education–or in society.
Amid perhaps the most important presidential election since 1932, the statements about education by our presidential and vice presidential candidates, even in the face of our current economic crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stuck with me more strongly than any other utterance in the debates. There is no secret why: I am a high school teacher. The night of the final debate, I was exhausted. My feet were aching–a consequence of standing on the job for the better part of ten hours every day as a teacher of United States history. I wanted to relax, but my mind was racing; there is a lot to think about these days.
We have seen a “bailout” of corporate and Wall Street swindlers, with the working class being forced to pick up the tab. The administration has continued to escalate defense spending while cutting taxes, never seeming to consider the dire social, international and economic consequences. With all the burdens being loaded upon Americans today, we deserve a break. Struggling homeowners deserve a break, not the devastation of foreclosure. Hard-working families deserve a break, not the shock of unemployment. And public educators deserve a break, not the damaging mandates of program improvement and the threats of state takeover that have fallen on my high school and countless others like it due to the draconian quotas of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Sadly, NCLB doesn’t care about strong relationships in the classroom; NCLB cannot measure smiles, teamwork, camaraderie or the overcoming of adversity. It doesn’t allow for creative and authentic assessments and engaging activities in the classroom. And, tragically, it has demanded that we educators check our hearts and souls at the classroom door.