As Republican nominee Donald Trump continues to make shocking and idiosyncratic statements about immigration and gun control, few voters are thinking about the Republican platform on education. This is not surprising. Education is a vital, yet often overlooked item in presidential elections. So where do Republicans stand on education? A closer look reveals that the GOP has not given up on their age-old agenda of making schools more conservative and religious.
Historically, Republicans are known to champion the infusion of religious values with the education system. In the past three decades, conservative politicians have fought arduously against the teaching of evolution in public schools. Facing upsets in state and federal courts in legislating Creationist curriculums, conservatives started focusing on introducing Intelligent Design, a metaphysical theory superficially packed by scientific language. This modified strategy hit the wall again in 2005, when the legislation was struck down by federal judges in the case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. As our society becomes more secular and liberal, conservative activism in education has subsided in the past ten years.
So what does the Republican agenda on education look like now in the election year? The answer: there is nothing new. When it comes to curriculum, Republicans have given up on legislating pseudoscience such as Intelligent Design. Nevertheless, GOP’s conservative moral agenda can still be seen in various domains. Just look at sex education. The official GOP platform states that the party is supportive of abstinence programs for teenagers. This is puzzling as an entire decade of research indicates that abstinence is ineffective in reducing teenage pregnancy and spread of STDs. What surprises us even more is the GOP’s stance against contraception and abortion counseling referrals. Such approaches are supported by scientific studies, but the GOP appears to embrace interventions that do not work.
When it comes to accommodating immigrant students, Republicans believe in an “English first” approach. There is nothing wrong with promoting English learning. After all, English is the official language here and assimilation is mandatory to a certain extend. The problem of such rhetoric is its overtly ethnocentric tone, which undermines the importance of cultural diversity. In addition, it may discourage schools from providing extra support for immigrants students in their native language, which in turn hinders the academic success of these students.
What are the consequences of the GOP policy in limiting the role of the federal government in public education? On the positive side, this would return control to parents who want to make important choices, including transferring their children to preferred school districts. However, limiting federal funding for public schools will weaken schools districts that are already underfunded. The problem is how in the world can these school districts survive without federal funding? For college students who are deprived of federal loans, how will they survive the increasing tuition? Does Donald Trump want to support the education system out of his own pocket?
The Republican party also wants to privatize education and encourage students to attend alternative educational programs. For example, they support expanding community colleges, technical institutes, and online colleges. While it is vital to promote alternative career path to a four-year college degree, this can be a problem as it might encourage labor-based career options for students who can not afford a four-year college education. The consequence of such approach would widen the already existing gap of rich and poor.
The GOP still want to build an education system based on conservative moral and religious values. While loyalty for one’s deeply-seated beliefs should be honored, the GOP needs to consider how the political landscape in US has changed dramatically. With an increasing population of minorities, the GOP needs to embrace diversity. As the income gap widens, the GOP needs to show that they can support the poor. There is also a need to give up on policies motivated by religion, as the society is becoming more and more secular. But here is the difficulty: how can the Republicans accomplish these tasks while maintaining conservative and religious values? This is truly a conundrum.
Lizeth Sebastian, Carolina Ramirez, Jesus Limon, Yi Zhang, Esteban Plata are graduate social work students at Cal State Long Beach.