There are moments in political debates that astonish us and this year has been no exception. While the GOP has been essentially hijacked by a remarkably juvenile and obnoxious frontrunner in Donald J Trump, the Democrats have succeeded in engaging in real debates and disagreements over past votes, current policies, and their visions for the future.
Anderson Cooper of CNN was the first in what seems like an interminable debate season to really press candidates on teacher quality and the unions’ influence over it. He referred to the indisputable and well documented practice by teachers’ unions to protect consistently under-performing teachers and he cited the NEA and AFT’s endorsements of Hillary Clinton in his lead up to the question.
He asked her point blank if she thinks unions protect bad teachers.
And she blew it. She did not give a definitive yes or no.
I’ve had a very good relationship with both unions, with their leadership and we’ve had really candid conversations,” she said. “We are going to have to take a look what do we need in the 21st century to really involve families to help kids who have more problems than just academic problems. A lot of what has happened … and honestly it really pains me … a lot of people have been scapegoating teachers because they don’t want to put the money into the school systems that deserve the support that comes from the government doing its job.
Mrs. Clinton is well versed on the issue and it’s painfully obvious that even she doesn’t believe what she’s saying when she deflects and dodges substantive questions about K-12 education. She knows that parents and children desperate to get out of classrooms with terrible teachers aren’t “scapegoating” anyone; they are crying out for help. But sadly, unlike the tragedy in Flint which has played to her campaign’s needs and narrative, she ignores the Rubber Rooms of New York, the Vergara plaintiffs, and the countless cases and stories about children being trapped in classrooms where they aren’t learning and where, in more extreme cases, they are being mistreated.
She refused to answer yes to a simple question that everyone, including rank and file teachers, knows to be true.
And answering that question doesn’t take away from the majority of teachers who are changing kids’ lives every day; on the contrary, being honest in that moment would have honored the teachers who are getting the job done every day. It’s no secret that the poor performers in the building drag everyone down.
So Hillary, just be honest. You may never have known life as a mother with a child in a really bad teacher’s classroom but take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of those mothers and at the very least, tell the truth.