I watched the GOP presidential debate because my students are counting on me

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Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Guest Writer: Tom McLaughlin, Council Bluffs, IA
high school drama teacher

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During last night’s GOP presidential debate, I had hoped to find at least one candidate who supported equal opportunity, success for every student, and quality in our public schools. When all was said and done, it was clear to me that none of the candidates support what I value as a 26-year teacher. It was also clear to me that, in addition to this debate, I had an obligation to watch future debates, take notes, and share the truth. I have a responsibility to do that for my students.

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Iowa educator Tom McLaughlin

We always hear that this is the most important election in our history. Well, this one really is the most important. Anti-public education majorities in Congress demand that we elect a President of the United States who will protect the promise of a strong public education. If we don’t, our public schools will be irreparably damaged by misguided politicians who are bent on destroying society’s best chance at providing all students an equal opportunity to succeed. This election is key to our students’ futures.

Many of the candidates on last night’s stage have clear records of draining critical funding away from public schools to give to private schools, supporting charter schools that are unaccountable to students, parents, and taxpayers, and slashing education funding and those programs that serve students and help them in the classroom.

As educators and trusted messengers in our communities, we must make sure the public is informed and not fooled by presidential candidates who say they believe in a world-class education system but have a history of starving our public schools of critical funding and supporting flawed so-called reforms that don’t work.

All students, regardless of their zip code, deserve the time, support, and resources needed to learn. I watched last night’s debate because our students are counting on us to fight the good fight for them. As the education experts, teachers, education support professionals, and all school personnel, must deliver the facts to voters so they can make informed choices about their community public schools. They trust and are depending on us because they know we are dedicated professionals who are committed to our students and want to see them soar.

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Reader Comments

  1. “I had an obligation to watch future debates, take notes, and share the truth. I have a responsibility to do that for my students.” Interesting that Mr. McLaughlin felt HE had a responsibility to watch the debates. Maybe he could have suggested that his students watch the debates and come to their own conclusions. Or is he afraid that some of them may actually like one of those dastardly Republicans? I also wonder why Mr. McLaughlin wrote nothing about what transpired during the debate; it was just an anti-Republican screed. A very bad example for his students.

    1. Thank you Larry. My sentiments exactly. It is clear to me that this author watched the debate with prejudice; he already had his opinions, and looked only to affirm those. A closed mind is not a good model for students.

    2. As I read it, what he’s saying is he felt he had a responsibility to watch so that his students could discuss the debates. It’s not like he could say “You go watch and we’ll discuss it tomorrow–I’m just going to wing it.”

  2. As a career teacher who has worked in Oh, GA, WV, and VA, and been in the NEA union and now in an association state, voted Rep., Dem., and Indep., what I viewed Thursday was a line-up of same-old/same-old but for the one candidate that was virtually ignored: Dr. Ben Carson. He is no hack, has no political cronies, came from the same poor side of side town I did, had to work hard to earn his education (and appreciates his teachers), does not use bombast, has enough sense to know that his Cabinet will be made up of those people with the $ skill, defense skills, educational skills, et. al. he needs to help him be the first home grown non-political “I belong to the biggest givers” out there. He stood out as the non-bombastic, rude, hostile, give me, give me give me. There is your next President: a real person!

  3. For me, I have never been one to truly listen to all that each presidential candidate says, but watch and observe their actions in supporting their promises. As a New Jersey educator for 26, no one has done more to destroy the importance of education in our state than Chris Christie. He openly gloats about his work to beat teachers unions in NJ. All we work for is to give our students a proper, deserved education to survive, create, and give back to our communities. All this standardized testing has to stop. My students want to truly learn- but their’s no time for that with all this testing and test prep.
    I am now retired due to health concerns and worry every day that my depleting pension will not last more than 12 years because of what Christie has done to our pension system. Our kids should have a thirst for know ledge, not be stressed out for the next days testing.

  4. All of the Republican candidates would be a disaster, no doubt. The illusion is presented that if we just elect a Democrat all will be well with education when in fact presidency of Obama brought us Arne Duncan who is pro-privatization, and in favor of excessive testing, rating teachers on test scores, and merit pay. schemes on steroids.

    What you won’t hear from the NEA is the need to forget supporting Democrats and begin to support 3rd parties who not only support public education in word but also in deed. The reason you won’t hear that is because all the unions are joined at the hip with the Democratic Party and to punctuate my point I will that the AFT just endosred Hillary Clinton in a very undemocratic manner.

    Good luck getting anything more than rubber stamp approval of the Democratic Party candidate regardless of their policies.

  5. Until the worth of teachers is validated, and education for everyone- rather than a good education for the children of the few, the public schools will continue to have problems.

  6. We MUST stay informed. We have so many areas of need in America right now. I know the field is flooded with candidates but so far… I’m still waiting for superman! Sad.

  7. We not only need to teach students about how to fact check from independent sources, we need for them to be aware of ethics, propaganda, and vested interest. History teachers who teach about ” Yellow Journalism” and the Hearst Publications need to relate it to today. Students need to know who created the Washington Times ( Sun Myung Moon of the “Moonies” . Remember them?)…Who is Rupert Murdoch? What has been his agenda and reputation around the World (Fox, Wall Street Journal, NYPost, NEWS OF THE WORLD, etc.) ? What corporations own CBS, NBC, and ABC? Who are a certain media’s main advertisers and sponsors? Students need to decipher belief from facts. They need to recognize language that evokes emotion and leads one to false conclusions…..They need to be taught Thinking / Problem Solving skills daily in every subject…. If we fail, our Democracy is doomed. I think we have a very important mission as public educators…Teachers really do Make a Difference.

  8. Scott Walker is ruining Wisconsin schools and the long term prospects economy of that state. We can’t let him ruin the entire country.

  9. I would recommend reading a book by Jonathan Kozol “The Shame of the Nation”. It points to one of the problems in education, that of the restoration of segregation in our schools. We are becoming a nation wherein on a daily basis we do not speak with people who do not look like we do.
    Students are going to school with other students who look exactly like they do. Charter schools, if we were to judge by their student populations, appear to be made up of students avoiding meeting anyone who does not look like they do.
    The federal government’s contribution to education makes up only 6% – 7% of the total budget for education. Yet their leadership is lacking on the issues of oversight and accountability. When the author of the article talks about zip codes he is in a way touching on the fact that not all zip codes receive equitable amounts of federal aid for public education. By equitable, I mean enough to meet the needs of that student body. Such educational needs as books, commuters, teachers, cafeteria space, playground space, classrooms, art studios, music rooms,vocational classroom space, science labs. and school personnel such teacher’s aides, assistants for special needs students, counselors, nurses, vice principals in charge of instruction are not equitably divided among schools within a single school district or county. Some communities do not spend the same amount of money on their schools that are in communities where the majority f students are from minority groups. This happens in suburban school districts, urban school districts and rural school districts. The federal government should be dividing the funds authorized by Congress in a manner that helps those school districts or individual schools that have the greatest need. This can be judged by listing the needs of the individual schools either by the teachers, the parents or community members at large.
    I grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia I know what good schools have at their disposal to educate their student populations.
    As a teacher, these past 30 years, I have never worked in a school or for a school district that had a majority Hispanic or black student population that had the resources that my Fairfax County schools had in the 1950s and 1960s.
    The role of the federal government should be to have equitable resources available to all students no matter what their race or ethnicity. We need the federal oversight to guarantee the equitable division of nation’s resources. Your zip code should not determine what resources your public school has at its disposal.

  10. And let’s not forget Chris Christie’s closing statement bragging that he “fought the teachers’ union”. Does anyone else feel sick after watching this slob?

  11. The federal involvement in education should be exactly zero. It was never intended to be a federal program, but one for the states to deal with. When the NEA and AFT got into bed with the Carter administration and helped create the Dept of Education you made a deal with the devil. Suckers.

    The primary goal should be the best education for kids. If that’s a charter or private school, so be it. In the past 30-40 years we’ve given massive increases of money to public schools with little to show for it: kids today are dumber than ever. It seems that too many public school teachers are really concerned with their income, their holidays, and having little accountability. The public is tired of spending all this money and getting nothing for it.

    I know, beyond any doubt, that the NEA and AFT will support the lying, cheating, incompetent Hillary Clinton for president. What public school did she send Chelsea to? Yeah, Clinton’s big public school supporter – NOT!

    1. I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, Martin, but you need to do some fact-checking. Funds have been steadily slashed from public education for the last 20 years, especially since the beginning of the NCLB era. And our kids have performed about the same on national and international standardized tests for the past 30-40 years, which is to say, in the middle of the pack.

      Is that something our nation should be proud of? Not necessarily, especially when we can see those scores coincide with a lack of funding. Schools that are well-funded, typically those in wealthier districts/neighborhoods and have access to the better tax base, have more students with higher test scores, while those schools that are in poorer districts and lack funding tend to have lower test scores.

    2. What “seems” to you and what is are two different things. As a public educator it really burns to read opinions like yours stating that public school teachers are only concerned with their paycheck, holidays and having little accountability. I personally don’t see myself in the light that you would like to swathe all public school teachers. The words that you have used are a part of the problem and offer no solution. Try again.

      (See “…deal with the devil; Suckers; kids today are dumber than ever; It seems that too many public school teachers are really concerned with their income; their holidays, and having little accountability.; I know, beyond any doubt, that the NEA and AFT will support the lying, cheating, incompetent Hillary Clinton for president.”)

    3. #1, yes I do need to fight for my paycheck, especially in a state where teacher salary is very close to poverty line (only above by a few) and I have a family of 4 to support with kids going to college soon (possibly public system as I cannot afford anything else).
      #2 My holidays I need to recharge. I cannot go on a planned vacation anytime of the year and get the best deals because being a 10 month employee, I am expected to be present in the classroom every day for your child. I need that mental break to recharge, and summer “holidays” are spent either doing professional development at my own expense, or working a summer job to supplement my poor income.
      #3 I want accountability. I hate to receive the SAME evaluation as someone who doesn’t have experience, advanced degrees, or really is the one bad apple of the bunch. I want FAIR accountability which I can use to become a better teacher next year, regardless of how long I’ve been doing this for. Judge me on things I CAN control.
      Last but not least, students have the rights to quality FREE PUBLIC education, not FREE private school education which I cannot even afford.
      Believe me, the system is actually driving the good teachers away, not the bad apples as it was intended to do. I cannot wait for my last kid to go to go college so I can seriously think of a career change which will offer my family and myself peace of mind for my retirement.

    4. Martin H. (above) is obviously NOT a public school teacher and therefore he, like most politicians, doesn’t know the FACTS about the situation. In my district, the teachers have not had even a cost-of-living adjustment in six years, and only one in the four years before that, let alone a raise. So, those of us who have been teaching long enough to not get “step” increases anymore have been going backward in our salary and earning less and less while continuing to work harder than ever to educate our students AND meet the increased requirements to prove we are qualified. If we were only concerned with our income, holidays (Ha ha–I spend most of the holidays grading papers–I don’t have enough money to go anywhere anyway) and avoiding accountability, we would have quit long before now.
      What makes me angry is people who only “care” about students and their education when they are trying to get elected. Teachers care everyday. Martin H.and those politicians should spend a week in a classroom and see what really happens (and take essays home to grade in the evenings and over the weekend) and THEN maybe they would see the truth. Contrary to what Martin H. said, the public doesn’t know how much more they ARE getting considering how little of their money has actually made it to public school teachers.
      I hope it IS possible to find a candidate who will support education ALL the time, not just at election time!

    5. This man clearly has not been in any public school to observe and confirm anything he states. He is simply repeating rhetoric. I challenge him to spend a day in a classroom in a lower income school and see what is being expected of teachers. “No accountability”? Teachers are held to more accountability than ever. I’ve been teaching for 30 years, I know.

    6. Research before you spread ignorance. I’m a Republican, but the ONLY candidate so far who is not against public schools is Mike Huckabee (yuck) and who knows what The Donald believes in? The rest of them already have a proven history of gutting schools, giving friends $300,000 ‘superintendent’ jobs, and creating an even more 2-class society in the communities of those schools. Also, as governor, the Clinton’s sent Chelsea to public school.

    7. Poor guy. You’ve been listening to Limbaugh , and believing him. I suppose your willful ignorance is because you attended public schools.
      Limbaugh, you and the rest of the republicans are not about education. You are about profit. Just admit it; perhaps you will sleep better tonight. Confession is good. Private school might be profitable. But not yet. But I bet you are in favor of using my tax money to pay for it.

    8. I really think you need to stop watching FOX news, and form your own opinions. Do you have any kids? Are they dumber than you were as a kid? I am Utah’s teacher of the year. I WILL say that we have a more diverse population of kids in our schools than we have had before. I would say that we spend a lot more time to recognize, respect,and prepare to teach the diversity of our population. And many of us do it as we have second jobs to support our own. May be you meant to say that our public is politically dumber than anytime before. I feel bad for you.

    9. You have given no proof to your comment that students are dumber than ever. If it’s true, how can we explain all the medical, technical, etc. advances? Furthermore, schools have to follow federal/state curriculum requirements; teachers have little say in that. And, what about the increase in economic equality? PUBLIC schools also include ALL students now and that costs a lot more money, but I am sure it’s less expensive than an institution; what would you rather pay for?

  12. I have given this very little thought but I am going to suggest it.

    Teachers give your students a homework assignment to watch every presidential debate and write a conclusion report on what they heard and one specific issue or statement. No other home work on any of these days.

    We must educate them to be involved in the Politics that effect their everyday lives. Let them make up posters for the individual they support. let each one make a speech in class about the one they support.

    It would be nice if they are comfortable to talk with their parents about the campaign.

    1. Students and voters should also be asked to search fact checks after these debates. All candidates rely on our not having adequate facts at our disposal. This kind of information is eye opening and available.

  13. The above made some good observations. There seemed to be support of the candidates to have the federal government get out of schools. Eliminating Common Core was supported and a necessity for the welfare of our children and country.

    1. Tom,
      Make sure you share the truth, and not your truth with your students. They need to start thinking and making their own decisions, not have them made for them by you or anyone else. Encourage them to watch debates, research candidates, get involved, and not be complacent. Complacency is the biggest problem I see with young people when it comes to politics and the future. I find it with older adults too, many who are educators, who tell me they don’t know enough about the presidential candidates, and even our president, to have any opinions. And yet they vote! They are content to vote based on the popular opinion of those around them. It seems to be too much work to get the facts. This is so sad, and dangerous. You can be the catalyst.
      By the way, my truth saw a Republican candidate who values education, although he may not support public education entirely in the way you would like to see it supported.

  14. Agreed! Over-testing, teacher/public school bashing and lying about charter school successes need to stop! There are many social ills that affect performance in our schools and charter schools can not deal with them any better while making a profit!

  15. I have over the years watched as our education system has been beat up by the politicians, and one thing is certain, politics corrupts everything it touches. The GOP likes to blame teachers, and teacher’s unions, while ignoring the fact that giving fat tax breaks to the wealthy only takes away needed funds for many Government programs. Education is chief among them. Our roads are crumbling, bridges on the verge of collapse. I understand unions are not perfect, but then again our political system is in even worse shape. At the rate the GOP is going, only the very elite will be educated, and that should be a bell ringer for us all. More than anything else, we need to be about improving education. At present we have a one size fits all approach, which is part of the failure. People of different ethnic backgrounds learn differently, but for the most part this difference is ignored. Also we need a STRONG NATIONAL EDUCATION STANDARD. Every child everywhere in the us should be on the same high standard no matter where they live in the US. Rich or poor, Mississippi, or Connecticut, the high standards should be the same. Politics need to be removed from education, because as it now stands public education in on its death bed.

  16. I don’t think they understand common core , no child left behind.
    I don’t think they care if poor kids get an equal education. Gov. Christy threatens the teachers union Give me a break.

  17. I watched the debate eager to hear what the candidates had to say about education. Precious little from what I heard. If the moderators had spent less time attacking Donald Trump, maybe they would have had more time to ask questions about the critical issue of education.

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