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Obama and McCain on Education: What Is In Store for Christian Education?

I must say that the election between Obama and McCain is storing up to be a very close race. And why shouldn’t it be? This is democracy at work, a moment that very well may be historical–either by the election of our first female VP, or by the election of our first black President. And on that level, I am very happy to be an American citizen where leadership is not necessarily limited by race or gender in our governmental system. However, both candidates have certain pros and cons to their stance on the issue of education, which I would like to attempt to deal with on this blog (at the possible expense of combining the interests of both Christian schooling and politics, which very well may get me drawn and quartered, depending on the level of tact involved).

The topic of this blog concerns ONLY the issue of the future of Christian schooling, and does not necessarily address the myriad of other issues at stake in this election. I am simply discussing the differences between McCain’s campaign on education and Obama’s campaign on education and what that means for those of us who working in Christian education. Obviously, a vote should depend on a wide variety of philosophical ideals, not necessarily just on one pet issue that a voter feels strongly about.

Today I looked through McCain and Obama’s official websites. Since I found myself so divided, I thought it might help to check out what they, in their own words (or rather in the words of their speechwriters), have decided to stand for should they be elected into office. Today’s Christian voters, it seems to me, have more diverse party affiliations than in year’s past, and are now choosing to vote based upon the quality and quantity of information that they can gather about both candidates. In my efforts to be an informed voter, I thought that I should check it out and decide for myself which candidate appeals to me.

In terms of education, John McCain’s official website states, “Public education should be defined as one in which our public support for a child’s education follows that child into the school the parent chooses. The school is charged with the responsibility of educating the child, and must have the resources and management authority to deliver on that responsibility. They must also report to the parents and the public on their progress” (Issues, Education). McCain follows that idea with the concept that “If a school will not change, the students should be able to change schools . . . parents should be empowered with school choice to send their children to the school that can best educate them just as many members of Congress do with their own children” (Issues, Education). 

In terms of Christian schooling, private schools other than charter schools usually start out as fledgling academies using the best possible resources available until they have room and money to grow. I do not hold that all public schools are bad places for students, as some Christian conservatives do, but it is clear that we are at the point where we should finally acknowledge not only the inevitable inequities of school funding and school quality, but we should also acknowledge the fact that each student as an individual is different and education does not necessarily have to be a cookie-cutter base of knowledge. I myself went to a small 25-student Christian school until my senior year of high school, and I found that my gifts and abilities allowed me to make the switch quite fluidly. It’s not the size of the school or the availability of things like baseball fields, football teams and swimming pools that make a child’s education great. Otherwise, why would we have so many successfully homeschooled children? A parent who chooses to homeschool their child is a parent who is going to be the most caring and concerned teacher that their child would ever find in any school. Trust me, those parents feel a strong sense of responsibility toward their child’s education, and are not doing it out of a whim. On that level, the rights of parents to homeschool and the rights of parents to choose a Christian school should be honored. Particularly since all of the original schools and universities in the U.S., including good ole Yale, were seminaries at one time, and literacy once meant that you could read and interpret the Bible. (I especially liked the dig that Congress people are already making the choice to send their kids to outside schools. What would happen if all of Congress were required to send their kids to their local public school?) 

Obama’s website also contains some good information about what he plans to do, such as making math and science education a priority by recruiting strong teachers in those subject areas. He also plans on expanding middle school intervention support to lower the dropout rate and expanding afterschool and summer programs. According to his website, “Obama will address the dropout crisis by passing his legislation to provide funding to school districts to invest in intervention strategies in middle school – strategies such as personal academic plans, teaching teams, parent involvement, mentoring, intensive reading and math instruction, and extended learning time” (Issues, Education). Obama has also promised on his website to “double funding for the main federal support for afterschool programs, the 21st Century Learning Centers program, to serve one million more children” (Issues, Education). Perhaps the most exciting initiative for me, as a teacher is to see that “Obama supports transitional bilingual education” as a means of providing support for English Language Learners.

Although McCain is an advocate for school choice, his targets for public education do not seem clear or specific. It seems as though he is “fixing” the problem by not fixing it. Instead, he is simply giving parents to the freedom to go elsewhere if they are disgruntled with their local public schools. He does believe that “our schools can and should compete to be the most innovative, flexible and student-centered – not safe havens for the uninspired and unaccountable. He believes we should let them compete for the most effective, character-building teachers, hire them, and reward them” (Issues, Education). But other than asking schools to compete for teachers and leaving it up to the free enterprise system of supply and demand, McCain’s policies offer no real answers for public school funding or teacher recruitment problems. However, McCain’s choice stance does work out well for those schools who are working to be recognized and are trying to avoid discrimination in their local communities. Homeschoolers and small Christian schools may want to vote for McCain’s stance on education for this reason.

However, assuming that Obama’s promises to fund programs and carry out the well-intentioned by poorly-organized NCLB into the 21st century hold water, he is the more logical candidate to support when it comes to working within our public schools for change. We certainly should be concerned that many students do not have a choice to homeschool or go to a charter school, and are left with only the option of public school. Are we willing to sacrifice the needs of all of those students in order to make a statement about our right to choose? By the way, Obama never mentions in his website about whether he will pass legislation limiting a parent’s right to choose a private or charter school. It might be a good question to ask. He does, however, promise to also provide teacher scholarships to aid in teacher recruitment and create Teacher Residency Programs in order to provide teachers with the preparation they need to succeed. In addition, he is going to campaign for teachers to have “paid common planning time” so that they are better capable of working in collaboration (Issues, Education).

So does this answer all of my questions? Not really. It does, however, give me a good idea of which questions to ask. Do you happen to have any questions concerning McCain and Obama and their views of education? Feel free to comment and we can all try to answer them together.    


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