By Anthony Cody.
For the past seven months, I have been holding my breath hoping that Bernie Sanders would follow the logic of his passionate defense of working people and willingness to confront hedge funders and financiers, and apply this thinking to K12 education policy. As we know, many of the most ardent backers of the privatization of schools are these same wealthy individuals.
Last May, I wrote this column, suggesting ways that Sanders could win support from education activists like myself. Last night, Sanders made a clear statement of support for public schools, shared on Diane Ravitch’s blog. He said:
I’m not in favor of privately run charter schools. If we are going to have a strong democracy and be competitive globally, we need the best educated people in the world. I believe in public education; I went to public schools my whole life, so I think rather than give tax breaks to billionaires, I think we invest in teachers and we invest in public education. I really do. (see video here, statement at 1:48:32)
This morning I posted a longer transcript of remarks Sanders made at a gathering of the Massachusetts Teachers Association last October. He makes it clear that he supports the teaching profession, and our unions. It is also notable that when Sanders was in Chicago recently he made a point of stating that he did not need support from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has closed fifty schools and waged war on the teachers union.
I think it is time for education advocates to get behind the Sanders candidacy. I think support would be stronger were he to lay out policies along the lines I suggested, but I think there are several powerful reasons to support him. Here they are:
For years, we have argued that when attempting to improve educational outcomes for students, we cannot ignore the effects of poverty. We have called on leaders to directly address poverty – and Sanders has by far the strongest policies in this area, including a plan to increase the minimum wage across the country.
Sanders has taken a stand in support of public schools, and against their privatization. Hillary Clinton, it should be noted, made critical comments about charter schools a month ago – which provoked an outcry from wealthy supporters. Soon after, her campaign backpedaled, and a week or two later she said she “would close any schools that are below average.” Sanders is not relying on this sort of wealthy supporter for his campaign, and is not likely to come under the same sort of pressure.
Our students have suffered greatly as a result of the immense concentration of wealth, the crooked speculation by Wall Street and the banking system. Sanders is far more likely than any other candidate to take concrete steps to break up the “too big to fail” banks and reverse this concentration of wealth. That will serve our students well.
Sanders has taken the Black Lives Matter movement seriously, and has released a strong set of policies addressing issues of systemic violence, including the unacceptable level of incarceration, which affects the parents of far too many of our students. He also opposes the privatization of prisons.
Our students’ future hangs in the balance due to unchecked climate change. Sanders has taken the strongest stance of any candidate on these issues, with an unwavering position on the Keystone pipeline.
Our youth are the ones sent off to fight wars that destroy lives and squander resources. Sanders is the least hawkish of the candidates.
One of the biggest reasons people have been on the fence regarding Sanders has been concerns that he could not prevail in the general election – that someone who calls himself a democratic socialist would be so far outside the mainstream that he would be unelectable. However, in recent weeks, I have begun to feel quite the opposite. When I listen to the leading Republican candidates, I hear Donald Trump, the epitome of a billionaire bully. Sanders would be, in my view, better than any other candidate in calling him out – as he did recently when he pointed out that Trump had argued that in the US “wages are too high.”
The news media has subjected the Sanders campaign to a virtual blackout. I watched in amazement the other night as a reporter asked a Sanders if he would quit the race if he lost in New Hampshire — where he is actually leading in the polls! According to a recent estimate, “liberal” network MSNBC has given Trump 95% greater coverage than Sanders. The Sanders campaign will need grassroots support to overcome this — and it is time we gave it to him.
Our students and schools have suffered as the concentration of wealth has accelerated over the past decade. President Obama has not confronted or curtailed this trend, and, sadly, there is little to indicate that Hillary Clinton will either. Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who has rejected support from super-PACS and spurned Wall Street. His education platform could be stronger, but he is not captive to the wealthy donors that have controlled both parties for years. Our students need a president who confronts the scourge of poverty, and I believe Bernie Sanders is the best for that task.
What do you think? Is it time for supporters of public education to get behind Bernie Sanders? Are you “feeling the Bern”?
Featured photo by Alex Garland. Used with permission, all rights reserved.