Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Elitism in '08

vonzastrowc's picture

scarecrow_oz.gifCommentators have noticed that education was absent from yesterday's presidential debate. This just weeks after the masters of the Ed in '08 campaign closed up shop and declared victory in their quest to make education the election's top issue.

Bloggers have suggested credible reasons for Ed in '08's premature demise: The market inferno sucked all the oxygen out of the education debate. Wall Street failures damaged the reputation of business-inspired education reforms favored by Ed in 08's funders.

Yet the elections revealed another force that may have hindered Ed in '08's plans: politicians' scorn for intellectual achievement. When candidates competing for high office equate expertise or learning with "elitism," we all have a harder time advocating high academic standards. Anyone who says Americans need greater knowledge or higher skills faces some strong cultural and political headwinds.

Yet as wecome to grips with the incredible complexity of our economic and environmental problems, the winds may be shifting....

Closing the Achievement Gap?


My husband and I caught those references to "elitism" as well and share your concern. My husband, a native Southerner and veteran of the civil rights movement, pointed out that historically racists were the ones who had the biggest problem accepting an educated person of color because the reality of the person's intellectual accomplishment obviously bumps against their distorted perceptions. 

Today, we hear much about the achievement gap between black and white students on various measures. One reason offered for that gap is misperception among too many Black youth (and sometimes their families) that to be highly educated (and act like it) is to "act white." I would hope that having a Harvard-educated Black man as a serious contender for the office of President would be something we can point out to all our children as a source of pride (remember when we used to say "anyone could be President in America"?).

I agree--to an extent...


I partially agree with your sentiment that politicians have less of an impact than their rhetoric would have us believe. That was likely one of Ed in '08's major challenges. Yet politicians are unfortunately all too willing to amplify cultural tendencies that do education reformers few favors. Schools, after all, should celebrate expertise and intellectual curiosity as well as judgment and character. When people with a bully pulpit minimize the value of knowledge, skill and experience, they certainly don't make the job of educators any easier.

Too Much Credit to Politicians

Interesting ideas. I wonder, Claus, if you're giving politicians too much credit for anything that happens in a classroom? Politicians have included something or other about education through my life. Most people seem to hold views about schools (likely based on personaal experience) independent from those political statements. The current political campaign education platforms seem more patronizing to teacher unions and evangelists in exchange for votes than directly to increasing student learning promptly. Yes?