As a retired public school teacher, I find it useful to define terms by imagining how I would define them to children. The trick is to present a term with its most basic meanings. This works particularly well with political terms, since the media already defines them in childlike ways. Thus, if children ask me what Republicans and Democrats are (and they have) I might lift a simple definition right out of the media: “Republicans are people who don’t want to spend money, while Democrats want to spend money.” That would, of course, be an oversimplification, but it would satisfy the needs of the typical adult newspaper reader and might lead a child to ask more.
These days I don’t talk to as many kids as I used to, but the discourse is surprisingly similar. Consider, for instance, the reply of a California Democrat to this question: “What do you think state money should be spent on?” You’ll get a simple answer: “It should be spent on services for society’s most needy: children, the indigent,” etc. That’s an answer a child could understand. And most children, hearing such a statement, would think, “Well, why would anyone not be a Democrat? We should help children and poor people.”
Thus partisanship, the adherence to one party over another, is born. The problem, of course, is that adult political life is not so simple. To put it bluntly, Democrats don’t particularly care about children and poor people. Quite the reverse, in fact.
Take, for instance, the question of President Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) grant, which, we’re told, is supposed to help children. In California, as in the rest of the nation, almost all office-holding or appointed Democrats are for it, while many Republicans are against it. What I am arguing here is that, while this is a partisan struggle, it is not about whether or not we should help children.
To begin with, RTTT applicants must commit to adopting new federal “Common Core” academic standards (CCS). The reason given is that many states have poor standards. But California, in the estimate of virtually everyone who has studied its standards, is not in that category. Nonetheless, the Schwarzenegger appointed state school board approved paying, according to the non-profit group EdSource, up to $1.6 billion to cover the costs dropping our standards and adopting the CCS, and the board’s new members, appointed by Democratic governor Jerry Brown, are not perturbed at the prospect. Meanwhile our RTTT application was rejected and we will receive no federal money, so we will be paying the $1.6 billion with state funds, increasing by that amount our $25 billion deficit.
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