President Obama recently urged 'folks' to get out and vote. Likewise, the Republicans are trying to get people to the polls. Both parties are hoping to touch on the issues that will bring out their respective bases for the midterm elections, which don't turn out nearly the number of voters as the Presidential elections. Predictably, the Republicans are running the "are you better off" play while the Democrats are using the rich vs poor, inequality scenario to frame things. Despite the powerful simplicity of asking the 'are you better off question', the rich vs poor debate seems to resonate more with the masses. I don't know who coined the phrase, but I'll say it again here, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," but only so you can beat 'em eventually. I should stipulate that I'm neither Democrat nor Republican, but since the Democrats' ideas for "solving" inequality seem particularly at odds with making real progress, I'm suggesting the Republicans engage them on the issue in a meaningful way, making it less about political party (who), and more about doing the right thing (what).
How should the Republican engage? Well, first by conceding the obvious - that there is inequality in America. By the way, I think there always will be, which is a good thing despite the emotional rhetoric, but that's a topic for a later time. Right after the concession though, he should move directly to a root cause analysis and argue that the objective evidence all points to education as a key determinant of "degrees of inequality". He could cite study after study that matter-of-factly describe how much more money educated people earn over their lifetimes. But this wouldn't be news to anyone, especially to the Progressive bent on making things equal which can never be. In fact, the moment the argument is put forth, the Democrat would smile as if his baited trap had claimed another hapless victim. He would respond with a stock line like the one Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group suggested Democrats keep in their back pockets for just such occasions which says,
"Republicans keep cutting education and attacking public schools, hurting our ability to compete economically and taking away opportunities for our children. Republicans proposed cutting billions in public education, including programs like Head Start, to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. That hurts our children, as good teachers leave, class sizes increase, art and music programs disappear, and schools become less safe. Families are struggling, paying for basic supplies, and seeing their schools decline. Those priorities are just wrong."
At that point, the Republican shouldn't panic. Instead, after reminding the Democrat that the government spends $12,200 per child on K-12 education today, he should point out the obvious- that despite all the money currently being thrown at it, our school system is in dire need of improvement. Emphasizing that innovation, and not just money, is the key to that improvement, he should then point out that no government directed innovation has gone on since the inception of public schools. To bring home his point about innovation and to preempt the Democrat's response that he is innovating in education, the Republican should cite a few lines from a book called Creating Innovators in which the author, Tony Wagner, says, " A lot of companies that are supposedly innovative still don't make great products. It's because they believe that in order to make great products, you have to remove constraints. But without constraints, you have no forcing function, which makes you think deeply to simplify- and to innovate." The forcing function, he should declare, is amount of money we have to spend. The mantra in education should be More for the Same, or More for Less, or More for More rather than Less for the Same, or Less for More, or even The Same for the Same.
Circling back to the stale, emotional argument about the wealthy and tax cuts, the Republican should ask how the Democrat would use the additional money. But, without allowing him to answer, he should ask if he would continue to spend any of it to offer lifetime employment to teachers -regardless of performance or to pay unions to stifle innovation by fighting charter schools, vouchers, or any other reform that might actually make a difference. If the Democrat denied any of that was happening, he could then be pointed to the following article which belies his claim called, "California's School Reform Insurgency" which says the following:
Finally, the Republican should ask the Democrat this question, "If you had a choice of sending your kid to a successful school that had to stay successful if it wanted to continue to operate, or to a failing school that the government was working hard to improve, which would you choose?" Assuming he answered the question asked, honestly or dishonestly, he should be asked two follow-ups, "Shouldn't every parent have that choice?" and "What do you think would happen to the quality of our education system if they did?"