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John Edwards' on Education

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Message Margaret Bassett
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The greatest poverty a person faces is the poverty of learning. To me that's both in and out of classrooms. My private assessment of the issue, however, gets no traction. Education ranks close to Social Security as being the "third rail of American politics." So I give John Edwards a B for boldness as he outlines his proposal in his 80-page Plan to Build America, carefully outlined and documented by topic. On Education, he sets these worthy goals: * Every child should be prepared to succeed when they show up in the classroom. * Every classroom should be led by an excellent teacher. * Every teacher should work in an outstanding school. As president, he would lead the way toward universal preschool for 4-year-olds, starting with the children who need help the most. The Great Promise and Smart Start initiatives, together with greater support for existing programs like Head Start and the child care block grant, will reach $10 billion a year in new funding, he proposes. The state of North Carolina has shown considerable progress over the past two decades, and he describes some of that. When it comes time to address competency of teachers he talks money, especially in poor neighborhoods. I quote: "... help states and school districts improve working conditions and increase time for teacher collaboration and planning." "...also address barriers for teachers moving between states by encouraging reciprocal credentials and studying ways to make pension plans compatible." Overhauling No Child Left Behind and creating a National Teacher University are addressed. What constitutes an outstanding school, according to his treatise, has much to do with quality of teachers and measurement of a school's achievements. Putting resources in areas where poverty leads to dropping out before high school graduation is emphasized. Much of what is discussed by John Edwards is probably on the minds of governors, as well as school boards, parents and teachers. Part of what I read makes me wonder how Edwards, the politician, will confront teachers' unions. Portability of licenses from one state to another might be contentious, for example. In other words, it boils down to a simple question. Just WHO is responsible for education in the United States? I oppose too much federal intervention in the process. But I recognize that the three Democratic candidates for president and their spouses, all attorneys, have been educated since the US government increased intervention. I think of it as the Sputnik syndrome. When the Soviets beat us in space, Congress started scholarships for those who would study science and math, purportedly because national defense was threatened. Baby Boomers were gifted with chances for inexpensive loans and outright grants reminiscent of the original GI Bill. After the civil rights and American disabilities movements commanded more appropriations, ever greater power resides in the Department of Education. No Child Left Behind changed how children spend their growing-up years. Through it all, the US has not put its money where its mouth is. And, for me, probably shouldn't. All has not become a total disaster despite my contrarian attitude. Governors know that if they want companies, retirees and tourists to come to their states, they best should see that the children in their states are educated. What they don't need are a lot of mandates from the federal government. As a person who seriously considers John Edwards to be a good candidate for president, I would like to argue my view against what he puts in this tract. On purely political terms, it may make him the "tax and spend" Democrat Republicans criticize, and copy. I would, however, like to get personal. His view of education is that money liberated him out of the mill into the courtroom. I'm afraid he does not understand that it has in one way enhanced the elitism which is implicit in teachers colleges, local classrooms, and definitely in mainstream media. So, if he shot back at me that I got my sheepskins much like he did, I'd bring our parents into the argument. It's true both sets wanted a better life for their children. He tells his family story everyday. Mine, dating back to the unGreat Depression, would center on my mother who had one year of normal school which she practiced on us four children, three of whom have college degrees. The greatest lesson she ever taught me was that everyone learns differently. My two first-grade classmates may have been rankled because I already knew how to read, but a teacher with all grades in one room was kind enough to let me practice on the "little kids"until I met bigger challenges. The first jarring experience I had came in college, when the Dean of Students called some of us for a special meeting during freshman orientation. I was thoroughly repulsed to learn we were there because we ranked in the upper ten percent of an aptitude test. I considered it uppity and decided right then and there not to take courses in Education and to avoid advanced work in my major. Something told me that there is more to life than credentials. In my fifties, I saw a need to understand what was happening in schools as I taught recent inner-city high school graduates how to make it in the computer world. So I went for a masters degree in vocational guidance, which leads me to think of Dick Gregory's advice to a group of college students. "You don't have to go to college to be somebody. You were born somebody. When you see that wonderful person you want to marry you're not going to ask about their grade point average."
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Margaret Bassett passed away August 21, 2011. She was a treasured member of the editorial team for four years.

Margaret Bassett--OEN editor--is an 89-year old, currently living in senior housing, with a lifelong interest in political philosophy. Bachelors from State University of Iowa (1944) and Masters from Roosevelt University (1975) help to unravel important requirements for modern communication. Early introduction to computer science (1966) trumps them. It's payback time. She's been "entitled" so long she hopes to find some good coming off the keyboard into the lives of those who come after her.
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