In my previous post, I said that I don’t think it’s too early to contemplate some lessons we’re learning from the events of the past nine months. I said that one of those lessons is that leadership matters, and that we might not have been reminded so forcefully of the importance of leadership if we hadn’t been reminded of how elections matter.
II. Elections matter
It is interesting how educators’ experience with the Obama administration parallels our experience with the Strickland administration in Ohio. If they are as similar as I think, then it is critical that our colleagues on the national level learn from our experience here.
In both cases, we were thrilled with the election of an ally. Expectations were high for both Ted Strickland in 2008 and Barack Obama in 2010. Strickland would fix Ohio’s unconstitutional school funding system. Obama would reverse the excesses of the absurdly misnamed “No Child Left Behind.”
And in both cases, we were disappointed. While Strickland produced an elegant formula for school funding, the funding itself wasn’t institutionalized–and probably couldn’t be without an increase in state revenue that he wasn’t able to get. Worse, even this improvement came with annoying compromises, like an increase in the time needed for teachers to be considered for continuing contracts.
On the federal level, the Obama administration offered improvements in school funding through Race to the Top; but those improvements were flawed in at least two ways. First, they were competitive and unavailable to all, and thus didn’t offer a genuine increase in school funding. Second, they were conditioned on acceptance of teacher evaluation premises that many of teachers and leaders were reluctant to endorse and which required levels of labor-management cooperation that don’t exist in most school districts.
In both cases, educators came to believe that elections didn’t matter. Our world didn’t end under Bush and Taft, and we didn’t reach paradise under Strickland and Obama; so why not send a message? And many Ohio educators, faced with disappointment in the Strickland administration, decided to do just that. They sat on their hands or even supported Kasich in 2010, and by doing so helped give us what we have seen this year.
Let’s be clear here–Kasich didn’t win just because Strickland lost some support from educators. There were plenty of other factors at work, not all of them under Strickland’s control. But some of our people became convinced that elections don’t matter.
Kasich’s supporters were under no such delusions. Strickland faced in 2010, and Obama will almost certainly face in 2012, a political landscape characterized by historically deep divisions between political ideologies. For generations, American candidates have run from their base and governed from the center. Kasich is the first Ohio governor in my 45 years in Ohio who’s not interested in governing from the center: he, along with the ideologues who handed him Senate Bill 5, are interested in trying out their theory of government, and they have the votes to do it. Many claim to be prepared to be one-term lawmakers, as long as they can change the status quo in the way they think it should be changed.
The Republican Presidential candidate in 2012 is likely to be just as ideological–or at least that’s what seems to be happening so far in the campaign, which features a contest among ideological extremists and panderers.
So when I say that “elections matter,” what I’m saying is that in Ohio, we have learned the difference between a weak friend and a strong enemy. And we have learned that the strong enemy is infinitely more dangerous. As hard as it may be, we need to support our friends just as strongly after we’ve learned their flaws as we did when they were our newest best buddy.
We shouldn’t leave this topic without paying some attention to the compromises made by both Strickland and Obama and considering why they felt those compromises were warranted. I’ll take that up in my next post, “Ideas Matter.”