Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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School Daze

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Plenty of determining factors go into the making of a good public servant: personal ambition, personality disposition, career path, circle of friends, etc. 

One that’s overrated, in my opinion: educational pedigree. 

I got to thinking about this after reading Louis Freedberg’s latest dispatch in California Watch in which he notes that, of the leading candidates for California’s high-profiled elected offices, not a single one graduated from a California public high school — and only Jerry Brown has a lengthy California-based school resume. 

To which I have to ask: so what? 

Here’s what concerns Freedberg: 

“Why is any of this relevant? It’s clear one’s early educational experiences have a profound impact in shaping views on what works, and what doesn’t, in education. In light of the multiple crises facing the state’s public education system, and the failure of many educational reforms to turn them around, the views elected officials bring from their past experiences could leave their imprint on policies they advocate for California.” 

He then goes on to cite the difference one person can make: 

“This is far more the case for whoever will be governor, but U.S. senators can also shape federal education policies affecting the states. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., demonstrated that as co-author of the No Child Left Behind legislation that has driven education reform in dramatic ways in California and nationally for the past decade.” 

For the record, that’s Edward Moore Kennedy, a product of the Fessenden School, Cranwell Preparatory School and Milton Academy. No public-schooler he — just like his three older brothers. Yet Teddy’s remembered as a champion of public schools. 

Or take the case of Claiborne Pell, the late Rhode Island senator and one of the bluest blue-bloods to roam Capitol Hill in recent times. Pell prepped at St. George’s School in Newport before heading on to Princeton. Yet that privileged background didn’t prevent him from devising something as good and decent as the Pell Grant

The list goes on of Democrats and Republicans who cared about the quality of public education despite their private-school schooling: Franklin Roosevelt/Groton School; George W. Bush/Phillips Academy . . . 

But getting back to California . . .

Eve Arden, as Connie Brooks

Let’s suppose that Jerry Brown did in fact attend a California public school during his formative years. This would have been el-hi in the 1940s and 1950s. We’re not talking the 1960’s multicultural chic of “Room 222”, but something far more monochromatic and less germane to today’s public-school system — think the late Eve Arden and “Our Miss Brooks”, or Beaver Cleaver learning the three r’s at Grant Avenue Elementary. 

The only benefit from being a byproduct of this age would be nostalgic reflections of a California which is no more and never will be, thanks to the various strains on today’s nation-state that didn’t exist a half-century ago. 

What would be far more relevant to this campaign than what schools the candidates attended, is what schools their children attend or have attended. The spotlight would be on Meg Whitman and Barbara Boxer — and the choices made by these two moms of varying privilege. 

That, and all four candidates’ circle of education advisors. Are they getting input from competing visions and philosophies, and do they have any ideas that will improve a public-education system that, we all agree, has room for improvement.


Written by Bill Whalen

July 9, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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