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A critique of Trump’s education policies

By Amanda Ehrmann

Section: Opinions

February 3, 2017

Donald Trump, like most politicians, speaks in code when it comes to education. He is easily able to identify problems but does not offer concrete solutions or suggest policy reforms. On his education policy platform he points out that America spends more money per student than any major country, but our students perform near the bottom of these countries. He fails to mention how the student performance is measured. He fails to mention that there are categories like the arts which our students access beyond other countries. In fact, he fails to mention arts program funding at all. My belief is that he avoids arts funding because it is an issue that splits Republicans and he does not want to distance their support.

Trump’s main education policies are centered on cutting funding to the Department of Education, defeating the Common Core and promoting school choice. In a Fox News interview, Trump stated, “Common Core is a very bad thing. I think that it should be local education.” If local institutions or states were allowed to decide their own state standard, this would further the national divide.

Many unfortunate situations could come from allowing states or institutions to make standards decisions. A southern state could decide that creationism is necessary to teach, and students whose familial views differ could be shunned and bullied. Students could be taught that homosexuality is a sin or that their sexual preferences are sinful, leading to a similar fate.

According to the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, Texas bans teaching safe methods for gay sex to their students, and abstinence-plus sex education is rapidly spreading. This prevents students from practicing safe sex and could increase the risk of teen pregnancy and STDs, which, besides the obvious reasons to avoid, could ruin Trump’s plans of cutting abortion rates by making them illegal through a rise in underground abortions. We also need to ensure that school-taught skills are transferable throughout states. We need to ensure that a student growing up in Illinois is eligible to attend college or work in Florida. Our nation needs to work together rather than functionally separate into 50 smaller nations.

In his book “The America We Deserve,” Trump announces that schools need to stop their focus on empowerment: “Some educators think being ‘judgmental’ is the worst of all sins. The problem is that life tends to judge—and harshly at that. There’s no room for error when you’re launching the space shuttle. Or mixing the concrete for the foundation of Trump Tower, for that matter.” However, children are not born into perfection. In fact, it took NASA engineers countless numbers of attempts to launch the first space shuttle.

To me, schools do not ever reward negative work. Sure, teachers may be lenient about appraisal, but how do you expect children to be motivated if their creativity or other positive aspects of assignments are not rewarded? There are multiple steps that are essential to creating a coherent essay or solving a mathematical problem. If a student has a mastery of vocabulary, but their essay structure is lacking, or if they perform the arithmetic correctly, but misplace a decimal point in the answer, teachers still need to acknowledge what they have done right, along with what they can improve. Pinpointing the strengths and weaknesses allows for student improvement; otherwise, the student may not know what to work on.

Additionally, a little positive reinforcement, reminding students they are headed in the right direction, promotes the sense that a student is supported when faced with challenges, so that they will be driven to improve. School is a time for students to perfect necessary skills so that they can reach that professional level.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, is also the chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, an organization whose goal is to assist parents in choosing the best schools for their children. While that seems to be an admirable goal, DeVos promotes the private school sector over the public school sector. The idea that families should choose which school their child attends proves extremely problematic as it brings into question who has priority.

Certainly families will lean toward schools with good resources, and teachers will congregate toward these schools, since they can provide better pay. Whichever leftover children will be stuck with unprepared teachers and a lack of resources. Similarly, promoting the private sector takes financially stable families out of the public tax realm. While they will still pay property taxes, they could move closer to a private school and have no motivation to donate to public schools, and children who cannot afford private schools will be left to suffer.

There is no denying that education in the United States in not ideal, but Obama has implemented the necessary steps forward during his time in office, such as requiring the inclusion of gender-neutral bathrooms in public schools or his race-based school discipline program, which aims to implement racial justice reforms to prevent schools from expelling and suspending Hispanic and black students at disproportionate rates. This program uplifts minority groups and ensures that students of color do not end up in prison unjustly at a young age. This is an issue because our prison system is extremely discriminatory, and it is more challenging for a person of color to overcome criminal records. Due to their racist and homophobic agendas, Trump and his cabinet picks will certainly attempt to reverse these steps, and these policies could signal a decline in equal opportunity in education.

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