Of course the president says he loves the poorly educated: authoritarian regimes benefit when citizens lack education, writes Obamas education secretary
In late July, at a speech for veterans in Kansas City, Missouri, President Trump jabbed a finger at the back of the room, where members of the media were gathered, and cautioned his audience: Dont believe the crap you see from these people. Theyre fake news. He was upset, as he often is, because he felt he was being treated unfairly by the media. It was pretty standard red meat, the stuff were growing more and more used to from our commander-in-chief. The crowd loved it.
But this time, he added something new: Remember, what youre seeing and what youre hearing is not whats happening. As many have pointed out, this was downright Orwellian. The final directive of Nineteen Eighty-Fours Big Brother was to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. This is exactly what President Trump wants: for Americans to be unable, and unwilling, to see or hear whats actually true. He wants us to be unable to think critically.
Im a former education secretary with no ambitions for political office. So what do Trumps authoritarian dreams have to do with education policy? In a word: everything.
Education is a complicated issue, but for a long time its enjoyed bipartisan support. Democrats and Republicans debate about strategies, methods or funding for education, but weve consistently agreed that educating Americans was a good thing. That was never complicated. When I served as secretary, there was broad bipartisan support for educational goals like higher academic standards, better high school graduation rates, and more meaningful teacher training programs.
We agreed on these goals because we were painfully aware that America, so long the global education leader, had fallen far behind our international peers. We were no longer top 10 in anything not academic ability, not college graduation rates, not access to high-quality pre-K. To take just this last example, the United States ranks 31st out of 35 industrialized countries for pre-K access. When many of our children enter kindergarten, theyre already one or two years behind, and many of them will never recover. What this says is that we literally do not care about the educational prospects of our youngest children, our babies.
Nelson Mandela once said: Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. I couldnt agree more. Ive seen great schools, teachers, and principals save thousands of young lives by giving them chances they didnt know existed, and Ive seen countless other young lives virtually destroyed by an education system that has consistently lied to students and ultimately failed them. My tenure as education secretary was not perfect, but we were committed to aspirational goals and to students. This was true of so many others, including governors like John Kasich, Bill Haslam and Jack Markell. What we shared was the ultimate goal: to make America the world leader in education once more.
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