In Sunday night’s debate the word ‘school’ was said a total of three times, all by Hillary Clinton. Two of those refered to her past, as she described how she helped out in ‘schools’ when she finished law ‘school’. The word ‘education’ was used only 5 times. Donald Trump used it twice, both to say that the inner-city education is a ‘disaster’. Hillary used it once to shame Trump not paying his taxes, and again in describing work done through her 30 year career.
I combed through the debate transcript to find all of the remaining discussion about the future of our schools from the entire debate. It was this sentence from Hillary Clinton’s opening response:
I’ve set forth some big goals, getting the economy to work for everyone, not just those at the top, making sure that we have the best education system from preschool through college and making it affordable, and so much else.
This was actually miles better than the transcript from the first debate, which is similarly disappointing. The words ‘education’ and ‘school’ are mentioned 6 times combined, and only as the candidates are on the way to making a point about something else. The debates so far have offered little chance for America to see the candidates discuss education, which seems like an issue that all Americans must have a stance on.
The debates have not seen a moderator bring up either ‘education’ or ‘school’ in the transcripts from the first two debates. Perhaps Sunday’s first question from Anderson Cooper acknowledges that schools exist, but avoides education related issues, to talk instead about the campaign’s tone:
Knowing that educators assign viewing the presidential debates as students’ homework, do you feel you’re modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today’s youth?
This question really had nothing to do with education or schools, it really had to do with the negative nature of this campaign. With all of the theatrics around this campaign season, schools are getting pushed out of the picture. The future of America’s schools can’t seem to compete the crossfire around that day’s theatrics and rumors. The responses in these debates quickly turn to the kind of personal attacks typically reserved for the Real Housewives, and the real issues are being left to the wayside.
In the last debate I hope we can get one question to the candidates about an education issue. Maybe it could be how they perceive the success of the Common Core State Standards, maybe it could be about the need for federally funded Universal Pre-K, or whether education spending is a priority in their budgets. There’s loads of questions in the higher-ed world as well. The rising cost of college is important, as is the need to produce more teachers and also the role of the federal government in supporting education research. Seeing the candidates talk about these issues would do well to illustrate how our children will benefit from their presidency.
The headlines around this race have been full of insults and character assault. While the media is getting pulled into these kind of stories, the issues that matter to a lot of people are getting left out of the discussion. The hunt for the next “October Surprise” means issues like education get drowned out and means undecided voters then must base their decision whose campaign most successfully torpedoed the other. Let’s hope the third debate will be a chance to talk about issues that are real instead another episode of what’s becoming a sad reality show.