Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Must Rise Above a 'Woke' Agenda That Limits School Choice

Aug 19, 2020 12:00:00 AM


True confession: I didn’t watch the Democratic virtual convention Monday night. Currently I’m maintaining my mental health by mainlining “The West Wing,” sort of like Tom Hanks clinging to his volleyball while castaway for four years on a deserted island.

But I did read the media coverage and listened to Bruce Springsteen’s anthem “The Rising,” first composed after the 9/11 attack in 2001 and repurposed for the convention. The video of the song that opened last night’s proceedings depicts an America ravaged by the coronavirus, Trump and his enablers, neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s murders, then reveals the first hints of redemption as faces of every ethnicity scroll across the screen along with scenes of first responders, volunteers, police officers hugging protesters, BLM marches.

Sure, I live in The Boss’s New Jersey. But I think anyone would be moved.

So, a quick pivot here and a reminder to the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris ticket: You are showcasing an America that goes high when others go low, that unites rather than divides, that strives to surmount pandemics and racism, that fights for equity in economics, education, healthcare, and that very much mirrors former President Barack Obama’s values, who, in accepting the re-nomination in 2012, said,

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance. I’ll invest in early-childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American — if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Earlier in his acceptance speech the President reflects on his single mom, “who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.”

Here Obama embraces school choice, so pertinent to his own experience. As he said in 2004 as a relatively unknown Illinois senator, it is the  “fundamental belief” of America that “I am my brother’s keeper,” and “if there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child.”

I hope all of us, regardless of party affiliation, want to see America rise above disease and division and racism and hatred and incompetence so we can (again, from Obama’s 2004 speech) “pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family.”

[pullquote]To pursue individual dreams, we must accept individual choices.[/pullquote]

Look at this chart from EdNext, based on a poll from last May that addresses “how the experiences of the past few months may shape Americans’ views on education policy going forward.”

Here, the views of Americans are broken down by race. The bottom line is “more than 60% of people either support charter schools or may be open to persuasion on the topic” regardless of ethnicity. And the number of respondents who support different forms of school choice—charter schools, tax credits, universal vouchers, needs-tested vouchers—is greater among Black and Hispanic people.

If we are going to “rise,” if we are going to value our differences, if we are committed to serving our community and our country, then we must not let a platform committee (8 members, two of whom are teacher union leaders) dictate Democratic policies on school choice. This is especially true at a time when our education system is under tremendous strain and when (according to this McKinsey analysis) “learning loss [during COVID-19] will probably be greatest among low-income, black, and Hispanic students.”

Chad Aldeman and Alex Spurrier wrote yesterday that [pullquote]while “the platform’s policies on education may seem ‘woke’ or trendy, they would actually steer Biden away from the coalition of Black and low-income voters who brought him the nomination.”[/pullquote] They add that the platform”would damage the students and families that Biden, and Democratic voters, say they want to serve.” (I wrote about it here.)

We all (well, many of us) want to rise. We all want to extract ourselves from this catastrophe as safely as possible. We all are our children’s keepers, regardless of their parentage.

But let’s allow their parents the right to choose. This is America, right? Let’s rise high.

This post originally appeared on NJ Left Behind as "Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Must Rise: Thoughts on Last Night’s Convention."

Laura Waters

Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for all. She is based in New Jersey, where she and her husband have raised four children. She recently finished serving 12 years on her local school board in Lawrence, New Jersey, where she was president for nine of those years. Early in her career, she taught writing to low-income students of color at SUNY Binghamton through an Educational Opportunity Program.

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