When Education Is Valued

by Paolo von Schirach–

WASHINGTON – Discussing Joe Biden’s pick for Vice President, it has been noted that Senator Kamala Harris’ mother came from the top placed Brahmin caste in Tamil, a state in south eastern India. While we know that the Indian caste system created hereditary privileges for those lucky enough to be born in the Brahmin caste, slated to become priests and academics, it is important to stress that the Tamil Brahmins, (colloquially known as Tambrams), were not just an entitled social class with hereditary power and prestige. They strongly cultivated education, for themselves and their offspring, as an extremely important value and key priority.

The importance of learning

Which is to say that children born into these Tamil Brahmin families are taught from a very young age that it is their noble duty to learn and do their very best to excel in all academic subjects, while also learning to appreciate literature, music, and the arts. In a sense, learning for the young Tamil Brahmins was and is a devotional activity. Becoming well educated was and is considered an indispensable precondition for those who aspire to fill important leadership positions within their societies.

It appears that the Tamil Brahmins who left India and emigrated to other countries brought this core principle with them. So, it is no surprise that Harris’s mother, a precocious young scientist who came to the US at age 19 with the goal of becoming a cancer researcher, taught her two daughters the value of education.

And the lesson was well received. Young Kamala Harris received every possible incentive to do well in school and then pursue a higher education. Eventually she became a lawyer, and then a prosecutor and finally California’s Attorney General. Compared to millions of children who do not receive this strong incentive to learn, it is quite clear that Harris, a first generation kid, daughter of minority immigrants, (her father was a Black Jamaican economist), was lucky to have a mother who explained to her how vital a good education would be for her. She grew up in an environment that valued and revered academic accomplishment and the acquisition of new knowledge. Pursuing it became second nature for her.

Ben Carson’s mother

Jumping to a completely different scenario, there is the story of Dr. Ben Carson. He grew up in a household of modest means. He was a Black kid raised by a mother who worked as a housekeeper. This was not the ideal environment for developing extraordinary academic interests and abilities. And yet this is exactly what happened. But not by accident. It happened because Carson’s mother, having observed how the children of the White families she worked for spent hours reading while doing their homework, insisted that her sons would also engage in a rigorous reading routine.

Thanks to the strong and loving encouragement of an uneducated mother who however grasped the critical importance of learning, Ben Carson did well in his studies, and later on became a famous pediatric neurosurgeon. Again, this was not a fluke, nor a miracle. It was mostly about the positive influence of a loving mother who wanted her kids to escape the limitations of their environment by acquiring the intellectual tools that would allow them to become well educated adults, and therefore able to climb up the socioeconomic ladder.

Good Charter Schools

Add to this list very successful charter schools like the Success Academy schools founded by pioneer educator Eva Moskowitz in New York City. Mostly minority children, many coming from truly disadvantaged families, come into these charter school on the basis of a lottery system. In other words, there is no prescreening, or preselection of the best and brightest. By definition, these children come to the Success Academy schools with no built-in socio-economic advantages. Probably there are few if any books at home. And in most cases they have parents who may not exercise the positive influence of Carson’s mother, pushing them to read.

And yet, what look like miracles do happen in these charter schools. Children who are truly disadvantaged do well. In fact, extremely well. According to Moskowitz, in her Success Academy schools kids perform well because while in school they develop love of learning.

Love of learning

I think this is the key issue; for without love of learning school is at best an obligation. Quite often, lacking a real desire or incentive to pursue higher degrees, a chore to be ended as soon as possible. And when the quality of teaching is low, (this is often the case in many American public schools), if you combine lack of interest on the part of the children and poor teaching, the end result of this “education” is bad to horrible.

So, what do we make of all this? The lesson I see is that education, especially for the underprivileged, cannot be just a routine service, something that is dished out just because it is mandatory service; but without any enthusiasm, and far too often by under qualified and unmotivated instructors.

Help underprivileged kids

Someone –parent, guardian, big brother, big sister, teacher, mentor, priest– must instill in the young person a love of learning. And this is especially important for the children who, due to no fault of their own, are raised in a household with a low level of literacy, and therefore almost no intellectual stimulation. Compared to their peers who grow up as children of well educated parents, with lots of books at home and dinner conversations that focus on literature, science, the arts, technology, and more, these kids have enormous obstacles in front of them.

This is why it is so important to encourage the creation of more high quality charter schools where children hopefully will find a nurturing environment that will stimulate in them the love of learning –the essential propellent leading to higher achievement.

Adults as mentors

For all the others kids, it is absolutely crucial that some adults, it doesn’t really matter who, will mentor them, show real interest in them, and help them appreciate learning, and help them understand how through learning they will be able to broaden their minds, understand new subjects, establish connections and distinctions.

Kamala Harris benefited from the revered Tamil Brahmin tradition. Ben Carson had a loving mother who intuitively understood the value of education. Success Academy pupils receive precious incentives while in school.

But millions of kids are not so lucky. They need help. Ideally, great teachers will generate love of learning. But we do not seem to have enough of them in our uneven public schools systems. This being the case, someone else has to fill this void. Otherwise, too many children will be lost. Their talents will not be developed. This would be a great pity, for them and for our society.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.

Donald Trump Way Ahead In Latest Poll

WASHINGTON – Even before we know the results of the critical Super Tuesday vote, (1/4 of the Republican delegates at stake), it appears that outsider Donald Trump has enough national support to get the Republican Party nomination. A Washington Post article (On Super Tuesday Eve, Donald Trump gets his best numbers yet, February 29, 2016) summarized the latest polls:

“Trump leads at 49 percent — his highest numbers in any poll tracked by Real Clear Politics this cycle. The number suggests that the theory that he had a ceiling of support — that he could never get to 50 percent — was … flawed. With Tuesday’s numerous contests looming, Trump has the support of about half of his party, in a field with five candidates.

And that consolidation theory is revealed as a consolation theory. As we noted over the weekend, if Ohio Gov. John Kasich were to drop out and every single one of his supporters were to migrate to Sen. Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida would go from trailing by 33 to trailing by 27.”

Everybody is wrong 

So, all the analysts, Washington insiders, influential commentators, and senior Republicans have been wrong –I mean really wrong. No, Trump is not a passing phenomenon, an entertaining but short-lived freak show, destined to leave the stage to the real pros, the people who supposedly master all the issues, and who can talk intelligently about their policy agendas.

And no, Trump does not have a “natural ceiling” of support that can get him up to 30% to 35% of the votes, but not beyond. And no, the non-Trump votes that went to Christie and Bush are not converging around Marco Rubio, now the “de facto” “Establishment Candidate”. (By the way, in case you missed this, Chris Christie, now out of the race, actually endorsed Trump. Talk about counter intuitive developments).

On the eve of primaries that will allocate about 1/4 of all the Republican delegates, Trump leads nationally, and in almost every state, (Texas seems to be the only exception, with Cruz number 1, and Trump number 2) in which Republicans will vote tomorrow.

Republicans firmly with Trump 

Whatever you want to make of this, the Republican base is fed up with all traditional elected leaders. For better or worse, they are willing to trust Donald Trump. Unless a miracle takes place on Super Tuesday, hard to see a path to the Republican nomination for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, let alone John Kasich and Ben Carson.

President Trump?

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump most likely will be the Republican nominee for president. This is not on account of his considerable national appeal. It is mostly because of the inability of the moderate Republican candidates to get out of the race and coalesce early on and convincingly around just one of them.

Fragmented front will not win

While everything is possible in politics, it is just not possible for a fragmented front to create a credible alternative to Trump. Look, we all know that Trump is not getting huge majorities. He is getting significant pluralities, (more than 30% on average , with a high above 40% in the most recent Nevada caucuses). However, these pluralities look a lot bigger because the non-Trump vote is scattered. None of the other candidates get even close to Trump’s numbers. And yes, you can get the GOP nomination with a consistent string of strong pluralities.

Kasich will not withdraw 

What makes Trump’s victory almost inevitable is that this fragmentation of the moderates is not going away. Most recently Ohio Governor John Kasich with a straight face declared that he has a great plan that will lead him to the Republican nomination. Really? Kasich gets 5% or 6% in most polls. He may or may not win his own state of Ohio; but this is not enough.

In New Hampshire, a state where he spent an inordinate amount of time and resources, Kasich managed to be a distant second to Trump, with 16% of the votes. How on earth does Kasich think he will get the nomination?

Same thing for Doctor Ben Carson. He may have a core group of supporters. But they are at about 4% to 5%.

35% to 40% is enough 

As I said, Donald Trump is not leading by enormous margins. But he is leading essentially everywhere. And in some primaries states the rule is “winner takes all”. Which is to say that with his 35 or 40% Trump will get all the delegates at stake. Who is going to stop him after that?

Rubio had  a chance 

I theorized that Marco Rubio could have a chance, if all the others withdrew early, and openly and enthusiastically decided to endorse him. But I also said that the window of time was disappearing soon.

Well, it may have disappeared. With Kasich and Carson still in the race, the best that Rubio can hope to achieve is to get to second place in many races, a little bit ahead of Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Second place not good enough 

I am sure that the Rubio people must know that finishing second, even assuming he does so everywhere, is just not good enough, especially in “winner takes all” states.

President Trump? 

That said, if Trump gets the Republican nomination, can he be elected President? Hard to believe this, unless he cleverly reinvents himself just in time for the general election, becoming all of a sudden soft-spoken, inclusive and congenial.

Assuming he does that, and this is really a big assumption, will the average American believe him? Based on the level of applause that empty promises get in this campaign, I would not rule it out.

Running against Clinton 

Most likely Trump would run against Hillary Clinton, a strong but hardly formidable Democratic candidate. In this strange environment in which a surprising number of voters are yearning for a “Mr. Tough Guy” in the White House this may even be possible.

Look, if most Americans were sane, the very idea of a President Trump would look preposterous. But until a few months ago the idea of Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee also looked preposterous.

In a sane world, Jeb Bush or John Kasich –both experienced policy-makers with a solid record– would be in the lead among Republicans, and not Donald Trump.

Well, Bush is out, and Kasich is in single digits.

Republican Voters Want Change, Forget About Experience

WASHINGTON – Yes, Donald Trump is still the number one preference among likely Republican primaries voters. And the rich New York real estate developer is followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. If you put them together, these two outsiders who never held any public office prior to their candidacy for the Republican nomination get almost 50% of the stated preferences of probable Republican primaries voters. Astonishing, but true.

Trump for President 

And yet, we do know that Trump is at best a clever, media conscious populist who appeals to the raw emotions of lower middle class and working class Whites, an important but declining component of the national electorate.

His policy proposals are a mix of nationalism, protectionism, and grandstanding. With Trump as President –he tells everybody– we shall win again. We shall get really tough with China, Japan and Mexico, countries that steal our jobs.

We shall also engage in a massive deportation effort aimed at getting rid of all the 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants currently residing in America. We shall build a wall at the border with Mexico, and we shall force the Mexican Government to pay for it.

Populism sells 

Yes, to be charitable, none of this is doable. Most of it is just hot air. And yet a large segment of the potential voters love it. And they love the fact that Trump shoots from the hip. He rambles, he says amazingly crude things. But he says all this with vigor and conviction.

And he always reminds his audiences that he is not a traditional politician. The pros are weak, unimaginative, and stupid. He is very rich, and therefore smart. And he is his own man. He does not need funding from special interests.

Anyway, whatever the experienced Washington pundits may say, the package sells. Trump is ahead.

Not enough to get elected

Of course, the caveat is that Trump is favored by a significant but narrow segment of the Republican voters. While lower middle class White people are important, they are not even close to being a national majority. In today’s America they constitute an important voting block, but not big enough to get anybody elected.

And so, while Trump consistently polls around 28% or even 30% among Republicans he does not go beyond that ceiling. And it is obvious that 30% or even 40% of GOP primaries votes, while the may get Trump the Republican nomination, are simply not enough to win the national election in November 2016.

Carson is even worse 

Anyway, if Trump at number one is a bizarre leading candidate, Ben Carson at number two is an even more improbable would-be President. Carson has a compelling personal story. He was born Black and poor; and yet through personal effort and perseverance he got a good education and he became a famed neurosurgeon.

This is a great American story, very appealing. And yet in the give and take of debates and interviews Carson has demonstrated to know almost nothing about major public policy issues. The man is obviously intelligent. But he is completely untutored. He cannot handle a serious conversation about the Middle East, or US fiscal policy. And yet at least 20% or more of would be Republican voters would pick him because he is likable, and because he looks honest.

Have the Republicans gone mad? 

What’s going on here?  Why select weird candidates who have no chance to win a national election? Have the Republicans gone mad? Yes, something like that.

Look, I do understand the yearning for change. Clearly there is deep frustration with unimaginative establishment politicians. There is a widespread perception that America is stuck; and yet the people we’ve been sending to Washington are not doing anything about it.

New faces 

Hence the desire to look elsewhere: new faces, fresh ideas. Yes, except that Donald Trump and Ben Carson, while undoubtedly new, are also spectacularly unsuitable and inexperienced. Trump promises impossible or truly bad policies. Carson has no idea about most of the issues, let alone putting together a policy platform to deal with them, and a team that will execute. 

If you want to dig deeper into this baffling picture, take a look at the highlights of a recent Washington Post poll. What motivates Republican voters to select their favorite? 52% replied that they picked the candidate who will bring needed change to Washington. (OK, so you get why Trump and Carson are popular. Most certainly they will bring change). 28% replied that their choice is for the most honest among the candidates. (A very low percentage. This means that for most Republican voters bringing change is more important than personal integrity. Not a good thing).

Prior experience not needed

But it gets worse. Only 11% indicated that their choice is based on who has most experience. (And this explains why Jeb Bush and John Kasich are so far behind in the polls. They are proven and capable policy-makers. But right now very few voters care about real qualifications).

But wait, it gets even worse. Only 4% of potential Republican voters responded that they picked the candidate most likely to win against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election. In other words, almost zero consideration about which candidate can appeal to the (relatively narrow) Republican base but also to the millions of uncommitted voters who normally decide the outcome of a general election.

Change above all

Here we go. In picking the person likely to become a national candidate in a presidential election, experience and electability at this stage hardly matter at all. The GOP primary voters are inclined to pick really strange “change candidates” simply because they are fed up with the old party leaders.

Broadly speaking, in a democracy change is good. There is inherent danger when we create a class of perennially re-elected professional politicians who dominate the scene with their established biases and prejudices.

What kind of change? 

Therefore, let’s open up the field, by all means. Let’s not go for yet another member of the Bush dynasty. (Jeb would be the third President Bush, after George Senior, and George Junior).

But if the GOP idea of change is Ben Carson or Donald Trump, then the Republican Party is in real trouble.


The Republicans Should Coalesce Around A Modern Pragmatist

WASHINGTON – I guess I am also part of faulty conventional wisdom when it comes to US presidential politics. I believed that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush had a great chance to become the Republican nominee. I was wrong. 

Jeb Bush? 

I thought that Jeb Bush brought to the table an impressive record as a two term Governor. He also has good credentials when it comes to relaunching the GOP as an inclusive political force focused on expanded opportunity for the poor, minorities and Hispanics. He is a serious proponent of public education reform.

Well, all this is true. Still, I was wrong because I underestimated the strength of the anti-establishment sentiment this year. Bush may be great. But probable Republican primary voters are just not interested. They are not buying.

Personality issues 

On top of that, Bush proved to be a mediocre, in fact bad stump politician. You would think that someone with that kind of experience would be at ease campaigning and debating. But he is not. He looks awkward, out of place. His demeanor is bland. Well, this may be fixable. But fixing it is predicated on Bush’s ability to quickly reinvent himself and present to the voters a different persona. Doable in theory, but very difficult, this late in the game.

A bad name

Well, if demeanor on the campaign trail is a big issue, Bush’s family name may be a truly insurmountable obstacle. Simply stated, it is now clear that the Republicans are fed up with the old political establishment. And Jeb Bush, even though he never held any position in Washington, is part of a political dynasty that is not remembered fondly.

His brother George W. Bush (President until January 2009) is linked to the disastrous Iraq War and to the onset of the devastating 2008 “Great Recession” with the ensuing financial crisis. Not a great legacy.

Out of the game 

As things stand now, even though Jeb Bush was a good Governor and not part of his brother’s administration, the family name and the blood connection may be enough to kill his candidacy. Hence Jeb’s extremely low numbers in all the polls.

As I said before, beyond his name, Bush revealed other personality problems that may sink him anyway. Given all this, he is probably finished as a candidate.

Coalesce around a credible moderate 

Well, if this is indeed so, then it would make sense for him and his supporters to coalesce around another pragmatic reformer who can appeal beyond the traditional GOP base in the general election. My preference would be for John Kasich.

But I realize that Kasich is also viewed as another establishment candidate. He has been around too much. Never mind that he has been an extremely capable Congressman, (former Chairman of the Budget Committee), and an excellent Governor of Ohio. None of this matters this year. For pretty much the same reasons, you can take New Jersey Governor Chris Christie out.

Is Rubio the man? 

Well, who’s left? Florida Senator Marco Rubio. He is young, and different. The son of humble Cuban immigrants who had to struggle to get ahead, Rubio is a credible proponent of a new Republican Party that will create opportunities for a changed America. He is young, good-looking, reasonably articulate and, unlike Bush, he looks enthusiastic.

Well, is Rubio the man? I do not know, but the moderates better make up their minds –and fast.

Trump leading by default 

If the reasonable, future oriented, inclusive Republican moderates fail to unite around one of them, then we are left with the absurd candidates. Donald Trump is still doing reasonably well. But he is struggling to get above 25%.

Still, with all the moderates below 10%, assuming that Trump somehow manages to get the Republican nomination, there is no way that he will be able to win against Clinton. Not from such a narrow, if loyal, base of angry “anti-everything” voters.

Carson not credible 

The same applies to Dr. Ben Carson. He is an interesting man with a compelling personal story. A classic “rags-to-riches” story that proves how at least in some cases sheer determination and creativity can lift people out of poverty.

But Carson is an even more improbable nominee. He has almost no public policy experience. He is a neuro surgeon. What does he know about entitlements, national security, and energy? What does he understand about the Federal Budget, or Social Security? Practically nothing. He never held any public office.

Pick a candidate who is different but electable 

I do understand, up to a point, that Republican voters are looking for someone “different”. I get that. But there should be a distinction between different and being laughable –and therefore unelectable. Trump and Carson, for very different reasons, are both laughable and unelectable.

Can the smart moderates coalesce around a candidate who can appeal to the conservative base but also to the uncommitted in the middle who always decide all presidential elections, with a political program founded on expanded opportunity and inclusiveness?

I believe they can. But they should hurry. Battling each other (witness the Bush Rubio fight) while Trump continues to claim, with cause, that he is the GOP front-runner is bad for them, bad for the party, and certainly bad for America.