Despite the controversy swirling around Melania Trump’s plagiarism Monday night and the alleged plagiarism thrown Donald, Jr.’s way Tuesday night, I thought both of them presented themselves well at the Republican National Convention, especially Don, Jr. He was well prepared, articulate, and came across as a strong future candidate for public office. In fact, he even stuck his foot in his mouth like a true politician when he spouted off about the dire condition of public schools in The United States. A guy raised with a silver spoon in his mouth and educated at a $50,000 dollar per year boarding school should be the last person to speak about problems in public schools, especially when that part of his speech, as his principal speech writer later admitted, was borrowed. Borrowed or plagiarized, every schoolboy, even the ones in public schools – the schools that Junior said are run “like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and administrators and not the students,” – know to give credit where credit is due, but maybe schools that cost more per year to attend than most Americans earn per year are not so superior to public schools. I am sure many are, but I am also confident there are many public schools that can compete with the elite schools of the rich as well. You cannot assume a school is excellent by its price tag no more than you can assume a school is inferior by its “public” tag.
I agree improvements are needed in many of the nation’s public schools, but as a former private school and public school educator, I am tired of hearing people (mostly Republican politicians) criticize public schools without also acknowledging there are many excellent public schools. Yes, there are public schools that are horrible, but to lump all public schools into one large cesspool of despair is wrong and blatantly dishonest. It is also transparently deceitful for Republicans or anyone else to propose plans of improvement more aligned to disembowelment of public schools than improving them. The present Republican plan of taking money from public schools and giving it to big business, loosely controlled charter schools, and school privatization ventures will not cure the problems in America’s public schools. If anything, such actions will eventually break the backbone of the American public school system, but that is likely a part of the plan as well. The current Republican solution to improving public schools is little more than thinly disguised re-segregation of public schools. The Republican call for neighborhood schools simply means white neighborhoods should have their schools and black neighborhoods should have their schools. Such a plan along with so called parental choice plans will eventually lead this nation to a greater gap between the haves and have nots – only this time it will impact white children as well as black children. When that happens, Republicans and the nation as a whole will not have to worry about public schools being “an elevator to the middle class” as Donald, Jr. stated in his speech since there won’t be a middle class!
Most likely, Donald Trump, Jr. has spent very little time, if any, in a public school, good or bad, but yet he speaks as an authority as to what transpires within them. Has he or his father ever walked in the shoes of a teacher or a school administrator? No, they are businessmen, and they can no more tell public school teachers and school administrators how to improve their schools than teachers and administrators can tell them how to run their corporations. Schools are not businesses! In the business world the Trumps have the luxury and resources to pick the best materials to make their business a success, and even then, they sometimes fail and have to claim bankruptcy. Teachers and administrators do not have the same luxury and resources. They are dependent on the meager funding provided at the local and state levels, and their success is largely dependent on the children conceived within the boundaries of the school district. Private schools like The Hill School, where Don, Jr. attended school, can choose students they want based on academic standing, family affluence and the thickness of mama and daddy’s wallet. Public schools do not have such choices! They must serve all children regardless of academic standing and family pedigree as well as serve the children of mamas and daddies without a wallet. They must take the kids they are dealt regardless of background, physical and/or mental state, and home environment. Unlike a business, public schools cannot choose to work only with the best raw materials; they must do the best they can with what they get often with little parental or political support. Teachers and administrators in our public schools are brain surgeons on a thirty minute time clock with less than adequate surgical tools and resources. For the most part, they are devoted, caring, hardworking people working in a bankrupt social and political system. So, yes, it bothers me that Donald Trump, Jr. has the audacity to lump all public schools together as failures and talk negatively about public schools that he knows little if anything about other than what a speech writer wrote for him.
Don, Jr. said, “Growing up, my siblings and I were truly fortunate to have choices and options that others don’t have. We want all Americans to have those same opportunities.” Let’s be honest, and look beyond convention rhetoric. Donald, Jr. and his siblings had the choices they had because they have a rich father. The idea or assumption the Trumps or anyone else in the Republican party will dig deep into their pockets to provide poor or middle class children the same opportunities for an education as the rich is preposterous, especially when you consider that Republicans consistently refuse to fund even an adequate education for poor and middle class children in Republican dominated states such as Mississippi.
Maybe, Donald Trump will be different if elected, but I have yet to hear him say anything about education that the Republican Party does not want to hear. I sincerely hope he is at least a notch above the kind of education reform Mississippi has in recent years been subjected to at the hands of state Republicans – reform that includes bullying educators, refusal to fund an adequate education for public school children, even though it is the law, funneling public school dollars into unproven charters and privatization, and bankrupting the state fiscal system that students, parents, and educators depend upon to support public school education.
If Donald Trump wins the election and truly wants to improve public schools, he needs to get with public school teachers and administrators personally and listen to them; he needs to get with education researchers and universities and listen to them; he needs to listen to these people because, like him, they also want to improve public schools in America. When it comes to public school education, he needs to stop listening to the business world and the politicians and do what he has always done – surround himself with knowledgeable people in education that includes people who have actually taught in public schools – good and bad. He needs to work with education leaders and education innovators who recognize the good things that are happening in education and how to replicate them; he needs to work with education leaders and innovators who understand the problems schools face and how to best address those problems; he needs to work with education leaders and innovators who recognize the educational needs of children; and, he needs to work with education leaders and innovators who recognize and understand the barriers keeping schools from meeting those needs. What we do not need is another Republican or Democrat who thinks he knows the problem and how to fix it without including educators in the discussion. What we do not need is more education rhetoric from Mr. Trump, his son, or anyone else including politicians and educators.
When it comes to the education of our nation’s children, educators across this nation have had a belly full of political leaders who talk the talk but fail to walk the walk . It will take more than a big ego spewing generalities to bring about needed changes in public schools; it will take a big man who has the wisdom, vision, and guts to stand against a political system and public handicapped by tunnel vision when it comes to public school education. It will take an extraordinary leader to put a stop to the norm of browbeating educators into humbled submission. It will take a leader with high expectations for success, but an even higher appreciation for the humanity and educational expertise of teachers and school administrators devoted to the children of this country. Is Donald Trump that man? I don’t know. Like thousands of educators, I am waiting to see, if silver spoons, plagiarism, and arrogance are the gateway to improving public school education, or if someone will finally realize it takes people who know what they are doing and talking about, hard work, and common sense to bring about improvement.
Jack Linton, July 21, 2016