Friday, August 14, 2009

The Odd Couple

So Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton walk into a bar ...

No, in all seriousness -- those two men, operating about as far on the opposite ends of the political spectrum as two people can, are teaming up in an effort to tackle one of President Obama's most important policy initiatives:

Education reform.

Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House, and Sharpton, a liberal Democrat and community activist, will be teaming up with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to work on getting cities to fix failing schools. The trio will make stops in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Baltimore later this year, with more tour stops in the works should the first few be deemed a success.

Obama has made education a priority so far during his first term, using a large portion of the stimulus package to save or create education-related jobs (my mother, who works in the Hampton City Schools system as a kindergarten teacher's assistant, saw the stimulus package save her job). He also passed $12 billion in July directed toward community college reform in an effort to help re-train unemployed workers and make a college education more accessible for students who may not be able to start off at a four-year institution.

On Sept. 8, with most students on their way back to school or just starting, Obama will give a major speech about the importance of going to school, staying in school and why it is so important for his administration to achieve education reform.

While much of the President's message -- as well as that of various other politicians -- has focused on teachers and administrators, Sharpton said he wanted to place some of the focus on the parents.

"The parents need to be challenged with the message of 'no excuses,'" Sharpton said.

I happen to agree with this stance; teachers and administrators can be invaluable, but the parents also play a vital role in a child's education. I can't tell you how many times I've heard my mother mention a student whose parents were being uncooperative or even beligirent, treating the school not as a place for education, but as a glorified babysitting service. Parents such as these do their children no favors, and it's little surprise that students whose parents have that destructive attitude are less successful academically.

On the flip side, if parents take an active and interested role in their child's education, that child will benefit. Whether it's helping a child with their homework or engaging in parent-teacher conferences or even something as simple as reading to a child ... if the parents are more involved, the student will benefit, both in the short term and long term.

Gingrich, who has come under fire recently for his stances on Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and health care reform, managed to find common ground with Obama and Sharpton on the issue of education. Though I've had deep philosophical differences with Gingrich's opinions over the years -- and am terribly disappointed that he chooses not to debunk the health care rumors his party is perpetuating -- he deserves credit for realizing the importance of education and understanding this cannot be a partisan issue.

"I think that he has it exactly right, that education has to be the No. 1 civil right of the 21st century and I've been passionate about reforming education," Gingrich said. "And we can't get it done as a partisan issue."

Sharpton added, "If there's anything Americans should be mature enough about to have a decent conversation, it's the education of their children."

What an amazing concept. Now, wouldn't it be nice if we had a decent conversation about health care, too?

Information from The Associated Press was used in this entry.

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