This Week on the Magic Schoolbus…

Written by Rana Tahir ’13

This week, we discussed the behemoth, education policy, with Kelton Williams, Knox assistant professor of educational studies. The central question was: Who gets to decide on the education of millions of students?

Professor Williams gave a general introduction to the history of education policy in the United States.

Kelton Williams

Schooling was left mostly to local authorities from the 1790s till the 1830s. The purpose of those schools was to produce good Americans with an identity distinct from the European ones they repudiated in the revolution.

When the 1830s rolled in, a tension rose between local and state authorities, with the purpose changing to produce good, moral Christians (of the Protestant beliefs).

When the states mostly won out in the 1880s, the purpose was again shifted to produce “good neighbors.”

The 1950s saw a rise in conflict between the state authority and a national authority over education, thanks to one little satellite: Sputnik. (I thought it would have been the issue of Brown v Board of Education which desegregated schools, implemented by President Eisenhower, but I guessed wrong.)

Yes, the round spindly thing scared the U.S. government. The Soviets were in the lead in the race to space, and the U.S. had to catch up.

Citing Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which says Congress may use its power “for the common defense,” the national government argued that funding education in math and science through the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) was part of the common defense. (I know, it’s a little redundant given the title… sue me.)

This was the beginning; later attempts at national control would come out of the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution, you know, the clause everyone tries to use for one thing or another…

The historical overview ended with today, when we are still in the struggle between state and national authority. And with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) it seems like the national government is winning.

While conservatives and liberals have usually been at odds with each other on national intervention (you know, Week 1 we talked about Big vs Small government), this year’s candidates are pretty much on the same page about everything — except vouchers — according to Professor Williams.

There are a load of problems with vouchers, according to experts (like Professor Williams).  Governor Romney is in favor of them, President Obama isn’t.

So with both parties thinking similarly (also similarly to President Bush) about education, one could wonder why there aren’t any other creative solutions…

A lack of a good education, maybe? Go figure.

Next Tuesday is Election Day! Go out and vote. Make it a party, I know I will.

Speaking of parties, on Election Day, a class viewing party will come complete with a panel of professors speaking on various issues. A fun way to end the class, and the election season.

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