Photo: Jessica Christian / Chronicle of San Francisco / Polaris

First graders stretched out their arms to stand their distance during Freedom School, a summer academic enrichment program for Marin County students at Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City.

Photo: Jessica Christian / San Francisco Chronicle / Polaris

First graders reached out to distance themselves during Freedom School, a summer academic enrichment program for Marin County students held at the Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City.

Schools became a central issue on the way to the presidential campaign – but not in the way anyone could have predicted a year ago.

President Trump made the issue of reopening schools for personal education a central theme of the campaign during the pandemic. For the past few months he has been arguing for no reason that Democrats want to keep schools closed “for political reasons” in order to use them as an electoral problem against him. He even threatened to “cut off” aid to schools that do not open, although he could not do so without the approval of Congress.

He continued to comment on this issue until the end of the campaign. For example, in a speech in North Carolina on Sunday, he said schools should reopen because young people have healthy immune systems. As evidence, he pointed to Barron, his 14-year-old son, who tested positive for the virus and has recovered.

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What has been brushed aside, however, is what the candidates have promised if they are elected president. Aside from the impact of the pandemic on schools, there was practically no discussion of educational issues on the campaign trail. They were barely mentioned in the two debates between the candidates.

This may be understandable as the pandemic has completely messed up education systems at all levels, making the discussion of long-term reforms more difficult, if not impossible. The neglect, however, has masked the fact that former Vice President Joe Biden offers one of the most detailed educational platforms of any candidate in mind – perhaps the most detailed.

Education has certainly played a prominent role in the recent presidential campaigns. When it ran in 1988, George HW Bush aspired to be an “Education President.” Bill Clinton was also closely tied to major educational reforms by the time he ran for president. In his 2000 campaign, George W. Bush visited 100 schools and spoke repeatedly of the “bigotry of low expectations” while the Al Gore platform envisioned an expansive federal role in education.

In Trump’s case, he promises very little – and almost nothing beyond his educational platform “School Choice” from 2016, this time with even fewer details.

In fact, his agenda for the second term contains only two items, all of which are reproduced here. Both were offered without explanation:

  • Offer every child in America a choice of school
  • Teach American Exceptionalism

His school election agenda and that of Education Minister Betsy DeVos are now well known – and one that Trump did not develop significantly during his four-year tenure. He has supported a number of plans that seek in some form to raise federal funds to cover tuition fees at private or religious schools and to support charter schools.

As for the “American State of Emergency,” the subject is relatively new to Trump and appears to be a response to Republican ridicule at efforts to see US history in a new light, along with efforts to rename schools and Remove monuments that honor history figures that are in any way related to racist practices and views.

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The New York Times Project 1619, which advocates tracing the beginning of the nation through to the arrival of the first slaves in the United States, has been harshly criticized by conservatives. It has now been converted into a curriculum that can be taught in classrooms.

The Conservative Heritage Foundation has endeavored to develop a curriculum devoted to the “American State of Emergency” as an antidote to what they believe is taught in US schools today.

“Young people lose heart at an early age,” wrote the foundation in a webinar on this topic in March. “Trapped in government-run schools, they learn that America is a nation of imperialism, greed and racism. Rarely do they hear the truth: America is the freest and most prosperous nation on earth – the only nation based on the concept of human freedom. “

In contrast, Biden has outlined an extraordinarily long and teacher-friendly educational platform. The fact that his wife, Jill Biden, is a former high school teacher and community college teacher no doubt helped inform his views on education.

What caught some attention at the beginning of his campaign was his proposal to drastically increase federal funding for schools, including tripling Title 1 funding for schools that serve large numbers of low-income students.

But he’s made countless other suggestions since then, including:

  • Increase funding for mentoring, leadership and professional development for teachers. The funds would also be used to help teachers obtain additional certifications in areas of high demand such as special education or bilingual education.
  • Helping teachers reduce their own student loan obligations by strengthening the public loan program.
  • Doubling the number of psychologists, nurses and social workers in our country’s schools.
  • Increase the number of students in community schools – those that provide a range of services, not just educational, to children and their families – by an additional 300,000 students and families.
  • Provision of “full funding” for special needs education compared to the 14% that the federal government currently provides.

Regarding early childhood education, in a massive $ 775 billion proposal to support caregivers at all levels, he suggests:

  • Providing access to a high quality preschool for all 3 and 4 year olds.
  • Offering tax credits of $ 8,000 per child (and $ 16,000 for two or more children) to low- and middle-income families to pay for childcare.
  • Expansion of childcare after school, on weekends and in summer.
  • Increasing support for childcare and other “all-round services” at community colleges to help parents improve their skills.
  • Creation of a new tax credit for building childcare facilities to encourage businesses to build childcare facilities in the workplace.

In higher education, Biden aims to make public and historically black colleges and universities free of tuition for families earning less than $ 125,000 a year. That’s in addition to the fact that community colleges are tuition-free for everyone. He wants to cancel up to $ 10,000 in student debt.

It is, of course, unclear how Biden would translate this wish list into actual programs, especially if the Senate remains in Republican hands. Often his commitments are declared as if he could do them well himself without Congress.

In almost all cases he couldn’t-something Biden, who served nearly six terms in the Senate, obviously knows better than most.

The fact that his proposals received so little attention during the campaign reflects the extent to which this race became almost entirely Donald Trump and the missed opportunity to discuss issues that affect every American.

One positive outcome of the pandemic is that it has dramatically reaffirmed the importance of teachers and schools in general, not only for the education of the children but also for their general physical and mental health. It was also highlighted that many parents are unsuitable as teachers and that schools are essential not only for the economic and emotional well-being of students but also for their parents.

This confirmation of the central role of school education will be expanded further in the coming months. But anyone who cares about the centrality of education in shaping the nation’s future will have the opportunity to keep Biden on his promises – depending on what happens on November 3rd, of course.

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