The intense media focus on the revitalized Democratic presidential contest, starting with the upset of Howard Dean in Iowa (last week, Gore Vidal in Seattle called him Dr. Dean and Mr. Hyde) and the hard-fought primary campaign in New Hampshire, is a very good thing for the Democrats. Theyre getting serious network TV time for one thing, and, with so many contenders, the nightly newscasts are spending many minutes featuring each major candidate giving their own version of the beat Bush message. Its been enough to trump Iraq and the Martha Stewart trial. Imagine that.
Now that the Dems are focusing less on beating the crap out of each other, their collective mission is giving people hope that, just maybe, a champion can emerge capable of downing Dubya. The story hasnt been, Oh, look at these liberal dwarves, how can any of them knock off the president? Its effectively shifted to: Look at all these respectable guys who are determined and motivated to make change. Their ideological diversity has been a plus (Im glad to finally see an upside to Joe Liebermans candidacy).
For a party starved for airtime, this is crucial. And the polls (OK, please tune out, you liberals who dont believe in polls) suggest more Americans think Bush is beatable. Newsweeks poll last weekend showed voters favoring Kerry in a head-to-head matchup with Bush, and John Zogbys latest New Hampshire poll showed even Democrats themselves are starting to believe. This is an enormous psychological hurdle to get over, especially for the media (a pessimistic Mossback included).
When Bill Clinton was in Seattle last fall, he said he thought a lot of the candidates would make good presidents. Thats starting to get across, even while the weaknesses of each are coming into focus. Drawing out the dramaand the debatea little longer can help set the stage for the race to come.
Geov Parrish does a great job of giving an overview of the upcoming Seattle school levies vote (Tuesday, Feb. 3). While Seattle Weekly is not making an official endorsement of the levies, I join Geov in encouraging yes votes. Im a frequent, but reluctant, supporter of school levies. I say reluctant because our public-education system is so deeply flawed that no amount of money pumped into it will do much to improve it. However, it can keep things from getting worse, which, sadly in this day and age, counts as progress.
Public education needs an overhaula willingness to start from scratch. But all sides invested in the current system parents, bureaucrats, teachers, politicians, business leadersare entrenched. Public schools have long been drone factories, their unstated goal to create compliant workers, not creative, freethinking citizens. Now theyve become day-care centers, too, and not just for students, but for many teachers and administrators who spend their time defending their turf.
From the right and left, we demand accountability in the form of testing. Lets hold kids to high standards! But testing isnt the answerindeed, its part of the bigger problem: The whole system leaves most kids unengaged in their own learning. Teachers are disempowered in the classroom. Yes, looking back, you might be able to recall that one remarkable teacher who made a difference, maybe two. But that batting average is way too low for K12. And what about being your own best teacher?
Critics of testing have long said that tests teach the wrong things. The current WASL debacle is a case in point. When tens of thousands of kids face failing our standardized tests, we contemplate lowering the bar to improve results. In short, we cheat. Some lesson for the kids!
Much as I think that teachers are victimized by being forced to teach for test taking, they arent off the hook for public educations problems. They can behave despicably, as the Washington Education Association, the teachers union, did recently in response to a Seattle Times search for information on sexual-misconduct complaints against teachers and coaches (see Mossback, Culture of Molestation, Dec. 24, 2003). The WEA helped teachers sanitize their records and has fought the release of documents that are by law public and clearly in the public interest. This is a case of putting their own interests above their students.
Theyve also done that in their fight against reforms such as charter schools. Charters are simply another way to enliven and diversify public education. Charters arent the same as vouchers: They dont drain money from the system. But they shake it up by allowing everyone to have more choices for their kids, and they promote public involvement. Theyre not perfect, theyre educations R&D. Yet the charter movement in this state has been treated like a case of mad cow.
Theyre right if madness is promoting reforms that might teach people to think for themselves. The sad thing is, as it stands today, the good public schools do for the few who thrive in them is still better than if we allowed the entire system to collapse with nothing better to replace it.
Speaking of education, please note our new listings section, Brain City. Each week, well list events that can feed the mind and spur civic action (especially given this major election year). Staffer Neal Schindler compiles the section; if you have events that smart, active people need to know about, send it to email@example.com. Like all our listings, Brain City will be selective, but a lengthier version will appear on our Web site, www.seattleweekly.com.