The views expressed below are solely those of the author, and do not reflect the views of Boston University School of Education.
Education Policy and the 2012 Election is written by Sean Ashburn, Class of 2014.
Here is something I know: regardless of circumstances at birth, every child deserves equal access to a high-quality education that will provide pathways to a fulfilling future. Here is something I’ve learned: every child deserves elected officials who are invested in that equality of opportunity.
My first meaningful exposure to policy making in education began during my junior year of high school, when I assumed the position of student representative on my district Board of Education in southern Maine. In this role, I gained insight into local politics, parental influence, teacher union bargaining, property taxation, and public school funding. However, simultaneously I came to recognize the potent involvement of the federal government, whose economic and curricular priorities are conveyed to state departments and interpreted by local school districts and their administrators in order to provide, we hope, the best education possible for the nation’s youth.
This same school year brought the inauguration of our country’s 44th President, Barack Obama, and it is also the year in which I read Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol’s 1991 exploration of the profound disparities in facilities, resources, and educators within America’s assorted public schools. These two forces, the election of the nation’s first black President and the research that introduced me to the inequities present in our education system, obliged me to acknowledge both the incomparable power of education for young people and the often painful effects of injustice for those who are disadvantaged.
Shortly thereafter, in July of 2009, I had the occasion to meet with the U.S. Secretary of Education as part of my participation in the Bezos Scholars Program at the Aspen Ideas Festival. That afternoon, Secretary Arne Duncan, a friend and appointee of President Obama, entered the boardroom filled with twelve precocious seventeen-year-olds and twelve educators from across the country, and immediately revealed his hope for our intimate conversation: to hear the ideas and suggestions of individuals currently experiencing the system over which he presided. Instead of sharing his own biography or expounding on his Race to the Top initiative, Secretary Duncan asked us to speak, dutifully took notes, and warmly personified our President’s expectations for his Cabinet members: to be an official that leaves his or her office, talks to folks, understands their challenges, and considers the solutions that they propose. I was immediately captivated by this man, and also by his superior, both of whom authentically substantiate their concern for the real experiences of America’s students and whose efforts confirm that they deeply aspire to use their authority to improve our nation’s schools.
Years later, the School of Education at Boston University has provided me with stimulating opportunities to explore and energize my passion for the field of education, but my past experiences remind me that the work of America’s teachers is not independent from the greater political system that is constructed by citizens’ democratic participation. Consequently, I embraced the invitation to volunteer with the southern Maine division of Organizing for America, President Obama’s grassroots re-election team, during the summer of 2012. As an OFA Neighborhood Team Leader, I was responsible for recruiting volunteers and co-hosting house parties and informal phone banks in western York County. I was also fortunate enough to hear President Obama speak at two of his campaign events in New Hampshire, where I was again reminded of the narrative of achievement that this man represents for every young person, and especially for every young person whose upbringing makes it challenging to envision the possibility that he or she could ever become the President of the United States of America. During each call I completed and each event I attended, my hope was to remind voters of what I consider to be the foundation of Barack Obama’s story and of his candidacy: all people have a human right to equality that must be protected, not restricted, by their government. “We’re better off when everyone gets a fair shot,” President Obama has reminded us throughout his re-election campaign and his own life experience verifies that this remark is more than political rhetoric. Obama acknowledges of he and his wife’s accomplishments, “Michelle and I are here only because we were given a chance at an education. I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance,” and through funding Race to the Top innovations, increasing federal Pell Grants, reforming student loan repayment, and investing in community colleges, President Obama has illustrated his commitment to college access, to social and economic mobility, to meaningful educational opportunities, to eliminating the savage inequalities alive in our poorest schools and neighborhoods, and to a true American Dream free of stipulations based on class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, citizenship, and religion. Our visionary President is not ashamed to attribute his improbable success to the power of education and he has reminded us all that if we make high-quality education a possibility, a priority, for every single child, we can activate the potential of an entire generation and continue to restore hope for the future of America.
Here is something I’ve learned: in 2012 and in every election hereafter, it is imperative that our country elect a leader who advocates for an excellent education system and equal opportunity for every child.
Boston University School of Education invites further discussion and/or other additional op-ed articles on this topic. Boston University School of Education is non-partisan and does not endorse either candidate.