Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lessons from the 2012 Election

Young people like the rest of us are saturated this time of year with campaign ads, election coverage and political banter.  Both members of the TU teach Social Studies and we both have years of experience teaching US/VA Government.  But neither of us currently count that course as part of our teaching assignment and we don't deal directly with the topics in our curriculum.

Since the classroom is a reflection of the outside world, politics invariably comes up and over the last few years impartial and balanced discussions of politics have grown more challenging.  Students often simply echo what they hear at home with little depth of understanding or awareness that there may be a student with a very different view sitting right next to them.  Critical remarks are usually followed in kind. 

That is not an indictment of their views, merely an observation.  We do offer our 2 cents, but ever mindful of doing so in a balanced way so as not to influence or even reveal our own views.  Any talk of Obama and Romney this past Fall has been like when a students farts.  You have to adress it and move forward but that is often very tough.

Elections bring out the best and worst in our great nation.  On Tuesday, many of our schools will serve a different role in that they will function as polling centers.  Each a mecca for the democratic principles which make our system so remarkable, so admirable.  The "What Ifs" are intriguing and a lot remains in doubt.  What is certain is that after Tuesday we will know who the winner is and we will get a respite from the partisan politics and get back to normal. Right? appears there are several scenarios where we not only have no clear winner, but might even end up with leaders from different parties.   Wouldn't that be fun?  Imagine you are teacher facing students Wednesday morning and they begin to ask questions no one can really answer. 

Ideally the Electoral College will function as it intended and produce a clear winner.  If not we could be in for weeks or more of legal wrangling and uncertainty.   One of the rationales for the Electoral College is that it tends to produce a definitive winner.  The 2000 election stands as a notable exception.  I remember how difficult it was explain to students the mechanisms at play.  Many never seemed to digest that Bush was declared the winner even though Gore had a popular vote edge.  Even with the bitter outcome the Constitution did its job.  Thanks in part to events 200 years in the past the system is designed pretty well.

The 1800 election saw for the first time the peaceful transfer of power from the Adams led Federalists to the Jefferson led Republicans.  Jefferson and Aaron Burr ended up in a House contest as to who would be President and who would be the Vice.  On the 36th ballot, Jefferson won and he and Burr shared an uneasy term.  The Electoral College was modified in 1804 with the ratification of the 12th Amendment. 
Though it is unlikely, it is possible the nation could produce a 269-269 electoral tie.  At that point the Presidential outcome would be decided by the newly-elected House of Representatives and likely go to Romney.  But the Vice Presidential outcome would be determined by the Senate and that is more likely to remain under Democratic control. So a Mitt Romney/Joe Biden result is not inconceivable.
Even in that instance the mail will still be delivered and the schools will be open.  We assume.

The Bush and Obama administrations have seen little change in the direction of national policy toward education.   More testing, growing influence from testing companies and corporate reformers are all components of the last 12 years.   Anyone expecting major changes from whoever wins is likely to be disappointed.  We simply ask that whoever wins does not appoint Michelle Rhee as Secretary of Education and decides that the best approach might be one endorsed by actual educators across the country. 

Our hope is that we do indeed have a winner and the loser concedes in a graceful and respectful manner.  In the event that does not happen we hope that the system and people involved with it will rise to the occasion as they have managed to do throughout our storied history. 
As for TU's predictions we must again remain impartial.  The Redskins lost this weekend.  The "Redskins rule" dictates that Romney will likely win.  If that happens Obama supporters should once again blame Dan Snyder for everything.

The lesson I would offer is that parents should talk to their kids about the issues.  Don't leave it solely to media outlets or even schools to educate our children on politics.  Young people often struggle to comprehend the significance of political events as they have no foundation from which to operate.    Watch and engage with them during this time in an open minded manner and alow them to form their own, well informed opinion.

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