Most Politically Controversial Statements on Education

No one argues that the American public education system is in crisis. But the question of how to revive it is a difficult and increasingly partisan one. Many politicians, no strangers to rhetoric, have grown fond of using public education as their whipping boy, giving favorable crowds what they want to hear but often stirring controversy in the process. Here are 10 of the most buzz-worthy quotes that stirred up a hornet’s nest.

  1. “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.” The campaign trail has historically been a place where reason and common sense go to die, and in the 2012 election that seems to be holding true. GOP candidate Rick Santorum recently made headlines by calling President Obama a “snob” for supposedly saying every American should go to college so that he could “remake people in his image.” Apart from the fact that the president never said that, Mr. Santorum happens to hold three degrees — one more than President Obama.
  2. “Like his colleagues in the faculty lounge who think they know better, President Obama demonizes and denigrates almost every sector of our economy.” Presidential candidate Mitt Romney would like you to note that he was making odd jabs at education well before Rick Santorum. In September 2011, Romney attempted to paint a picture of the president drinking brandy with east coast intellectuals while mocking blue-collar workers. The “faculty lounge” in question was apparently another reference to Harvard’s faculty lounge, the first coming in August. Romney told veterans Obama’s foreign policy is weak, saying, “That may be what they think in that Harvard faculty lounge, but it’s not what they know on the battlefield.” There’s just one problem, Mitt old chap: you went to Harvard and Harvard people donate money to your campaign.
  3. “Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school.” Your 9-year-old doesn’t have enough money, you say? Well has he thought about being a janitor at his school? Thus proposed candidate Newt Gingrich at a Harvard (big surprise) speech in November 2011. Newt Gingrich was born 70-years-old with white hair and a tie, which explains why he had no idea it would be excruciatingly embarrassing to be a janitor at your own school. Or that the suggestion was pretty darn offensive.
  4. “The idea that they’re telling us how to educate our children or how to deliver health care or how to, for that matter, clean our air is really nonsense.” The notion of getting the government out of, well, pretty much everything has been en vogue with Republican presidential candidates this season. Before his campaign crashed and burned, Texas Governor Rick Perry was making the least convincing argument of the group. He said he doesn’t think the government has a role in children’s education, a very controversial idea considering the millions of low-income students who depend on government Pell grants to defray the rising cost of higher education.
  5. [The] Department of Education … has eviscerated the constitutional understanding that the control of education truly lies with the parents.” Another GOP flame-out, another controversial quote. Rep. Michelle Bachmann jumped on the ditch-the-department-of-education bandwagon, saying in September 2011 that the Constitution intended for parents to control their kids’ education. Of course, this begs this question: how does federal government involvement in education preclude parents from educating their kids? Is she saying because someone got a Pell grant you can’t homeschool your kid now? We’ve never heard anyone wish that American parents would get less involved in their children’s learning.
  6. “There’s no authority in the Constitution for the federal government to be dealing with education. We should get rid of the loan programs. We should get rid of the Department of Education and give tax credits, if you have to, to help people.” Never one to shy away from controversial statements, Ron Paul has been calling for the abolishment of the Department of Education for some time. Paul is much more of a respected Constitutional scholar than, say, Rick Perry, and it bears mentioning that some distinguished scholars agree with him. However, Paul’s statement that poor students pay for college with tax credits doesn’t make sense when many of them likely pay no taxes as it is.
  7. “I believe the teachers in New Jersey in the main are wonderful public servants that care deeply. But their union, their union are a group of political thugs.” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a lot of weight with conservatives, and he doesn’t back down from tough talk if he thinks it will tip the scales in his favor. He has conducted a very public heavyweight bout with Jersey’s teachers unions, calling them “thugs” and claiming they care more about “putting money in their own pocket and in the pockets of members than they care about educating our most vulnerable and needy children around the country.” So teachers are in it for the money. That’s rich.
  8. “Learning about sex before learning to read? Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family.” This one came from the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. Sen. John McCain’s camp claimed in a TV ad that Barack Obama wanted to teach sex ed to kindergartners, making grandmothers across the nation spit their tea out all over their Reader’s Digest. The accusation came of a controversial bill Obama voted for as a senator that the left claimed was intended to protect kids from sexual predators, a claim the right denied.
  9. “People should not be coming into the state trying to intimidate lawmakers, offer up threats or anything else. That’s just not the way it’s done, at least not in the Midwest. And thankfully, again, our lawmakers stood up to those sorts of thuggery attacks, and we’re not going to allow that here in the state of Wisconsin.” Although Chris Christie may have dropped the “thugs” tag on teachers unions, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker never actually went there. Still, his reference to “thuggery” has been widely misremembered by many who were offended by what they considered a controversial statement against teachers unions.
  10. “People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now we’ve got these knuckleheads walking around … Brown or black versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem.” He’s not a politician, but Bill Cosby sailed away from the continent of political correctness when he basically said the civil rights advancements that have been made in education have been for naught. “We have million-dollar basketball players who can’t write two paragraphs,” he said. “We, as black folks, have to do a better job.”

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