Friday, August 29, 2008

Politics

I normally don't get too involved in politics; for the most part I'm not that interested. I used to be more gung-ho and never missed an election, but the past couple of years I've let things slide and haven't voted (the most recent exception being the last presidential election. Let me begin by saying that while I am a registered Democrat and will be voting for Obama (now that Mike Gravel is out of the race), if I thought McCain were the better candidate, his being affiliated with the Republicans would not stop me from voting for him.

On McCain's Web site, it was noted that McCain would "encourage alternative certification methods that open the door for highly motivated teachers to enter the field...[and would] devote five percent of Title II funding to states to recruit teachers who graduate in the top 25 percent of their class or who participate in an alternative teacher recruitment program such as Teach for America, the New York City Teaching Fellowship Program, the New Teacher Project, or excellent university initiatives." I'm really not a fan of said programs; I think that it can be a very costly mistake (both in terms of finances and educational ramifications) for teachers to be put in classrooms without some serious preparation - not a couple of weeks' training, but several months or even years. My own experience in taking 4 extra classes, 100 hours of field work, 75 days of student teaching and an accompanying seminar, taking and passing 3 exams, sitting through 3 workshops, and getting fingerprinted meant that I had to do some serious introspection and evaluation of teaching methods, which, to put it mildly, gives me a distinct advantage over those who go through the TFA training. I'm not against recruiting those who otherwise had not considered teaching as a career, but I am concerned that there is not enough training being provided. (There's a blog I've been reading that attempts to "debunk the propaganda" behind TFA. It's strongly against TFA but it does seem to make some good points about training, lack of preparedness, and teacher retention.)

To be fair, Obama does say the following on his Website: "Obama will create new Teacher Service Scholarships that will cover four years of undergraduate or two years of graduate teacher education, including high-quality alternative programs for mid-career recruits in exchange for teaching for at least four years in a high-need field or location." I like the idea of scholarships that cover education, but again, I'd like to know the nature of those "alternate programs." Obama seems to have a bit more of a plan to "recruit, prepare, [and] retain" teachers, which I don't see McCain having. Both address the horror that is NCLB, but McCain believes that "choice is the best way to protect children against a failing bureaucracy. But parents must have more control over the money." Obama says a bit more, saying that he will "reform NCLB, which starts by funding the law. Obama believes teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. He will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama will also improve NCLB's accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them." I wish McCain would say more, and I wish both would tell us specifically how he would reform NCLB.

As far as I'm concerned, McCain's stance on teacher education alone has lost him my vote. However, before I came definitively to that conclusion, I decided to peruse his Website and read his policies. There's a lot of throat clearing, being committed to "high standards and accountability" and "providing the resources needed to succeed. He believes we should invest in people, parents and reward achievement." Like what? And like how? I want details. He does get into more details in explaining other policies, but there are a few too many questions that don't get answered. Obama has provided, to my mind, more of an answer and giving us more specifics; I suppose a point-by-point plan isn't necessarily an option on a Website. 

I also noticed that on their respective Websites,  Obama addresses more than twice the policies that McCain. The educational policy is as much a hook for me as the abortion and gay marriage policies.  I agree with Obama that each religious denomination has the right to decide on recognizing gay marriage; I don't believe sexuality is a choice, and I don't believe marriage in any form should be illegal (and I have a difficult enough time following the church's teaching on the immorality of gay marriage). Similarly with anti-abortion politics; I believe strongly that abortion is immoral - I consider a human life to be present at the moment of conception and recognize few reasons to abort a child; however, I do recognize that there are times when that abortion is the only viable option (if both the mother and child were to die, for example). However, I also believe that if abortion were to be made illegal there would be serious consequences that could harm mother and baby. I believe in the freedom of choice, however strongly I disagree with those choices.

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