Yesterday there were elections all over the place, except that I've been focusing on so many other things lately, I forgot that I needed to reregister in Pennsylvania. So this afternoon I printed out the form and filled it out, but then I started reconsidering the specific political parties. I was never a very political person, but the older I get, the more interested I've become. I am decidedly not a Republican (although I do have a conservative streak), but since the last presidential election I've begun researching the differences between the Democratic Party and the Libertarian Party. I've been reading their platforms; many of the issues are those that I'm ambivalent about, or don't have enough information about (my own fault) to have an informed opinion on. But when it comes down to education, I have plenty of opinions, and I have enough of a background (having gone through a teacher preparation program; and being raised by two teachers; being a second generation teacher on one side and a third generation teacher on the other) to have an inkling if the education platforms are on the right track.
The Libertarian Party platform covers a rather short paragraph (section 2.8) about education: "Education, like any other service, is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Schools should be managed locally to achieve greater accountability and parental involvement. Recognizing that the education of children is inextricably linked to moral values, we would return authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. In particular, parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children's education."
I absolutely believe parents should be very involved in their child's education, yet I'm led to consider the options of financially poor parents and families if they can't afford to provide for their children. Simply advising them to not have children, or to plan better for their future, or to get better jobs, is not practical. Even the better educated don't always have the financial where-with-all even for college; I know extremely few people who have ever managed to go to college without accruing debt, yet most professional careers require a two-year or four-year degree; mine requires an advanced degree, and let me tell you, teachers are paid very badly for their time and couldn't afford to go without assistantships, financial aid, etc. I could not pay for any of my degrees (my A.A., or my B.A., and now my M.A.) out of pocket. I'm up to my ears in student loans, which I'll be paying off for a long time - and I consider this totally, completely, entirely worth it. If I had gone to college at 18, my parents would have been stuck with repayment of student loans - and my parents both have advanced degrees themselves. To my mind, and simply for me alone, an advanced degree is a basic level of education, but I recognize that not everyone requires such a level of education. I do think everyone has a right to a basic level of education - high school, at the bare minimum - without having to accrue debt. And as a community, it is our responsibility to pay it forward. When I'm old, I don't want someone undereducated taking care of me because I wouldn't support that person's education.
My opinions are much more in line with the Democratic Party's platform on education (starting on page 19): "We will make an unprecedented national investment to provide teachers with better pay and better support to improve their skills, and their students’ learning. We’ll reward effective teachers who teach in underserved areas, take on added responsibilities like mentoring new teachers, or consistently excel in the classroom...We will work with our nation’s governors and educators to create and use assessments that will improve student learning and success in school districts all across America by including the kinds of critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills that our children will need. We will address the dropout crisis by investing in intervention strategies in middle schools and high schools and we will invest in after-school programs, summer school, alternative education programs, and youth jobs.We will work with our nation’s governors and educators to create and use assessments that will improve student learning and success in school districts all across America by including the kinds of critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills that our children will need. We will address the dropout crisis by investing in intervention strategies in middle schools and high schools and we will invest in after-school programs, summer school, alternative education programs, and youth jobs.
"We will promote innovation within our public schools–because research shows that resources alone will not create the schools that we need to help our children succeed. We need to adapt curricula and the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century; reform the schools of education that produce most of our teachers; promote public charter schools that are accountable; and streamline the certification process..."
"We know that there is no program and no policy that can substitute for parents who are involved in their children’s education...We have to hold ourselves accountable."
Generally speaking, I can support the idea of less government involvement - in some cases. However, a basic education (however you want to define it - I define it as high school and some form of advanced training, which need not necessarily be college) is simply something that when missing, adversely affects a population. Critical thinking falls by the wayside; communication and outright curiosity about the surrounding world decreases, and then the next thing you know, we've become a population of sheep. (My brother made the comment to me a year or two ago that he thought I should consider a career in the non-profit sector or public policy. He might be on to something.)