Clinton and Trump Overlook Education in the Second Presidential Debate

Anyone watching the second presidential debate this past Sunday likely realized that both candidates sidestepped a question about the impact of their campaign rhetoric on educators and students.

“Knowing that educators assign viewing the debates as students’ homework, do you feel you’re modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today’s youth?” was the first question of the debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Clinton, answering first, described “looking for ways to celebrate our diversity” and Americans working together to achieve the “big goals” of her campaign.

Trump criticized Obamacare, the Iran nuclear deal, and America’s trade deficit, proclaiming, “We’re going to bring back law and order.”

CNN’s Anderson Cooper, moderating the debate with Martha Raddatz of ABC News, reminded the candidates that the question was about “modeling positive and appropriate behavior,” which neither candidate had directly addressed.

On the campaign trail, however, both Clinton and Trump have outlined big plans for education. Donald Trump’s most significant education proposal to date came on September 8th in Ohio, during a visit to a Cleveland charter school to discuss school choice for poor children.

Trump announced a $20 billion plan for block grants to states, providing funds that would follow students to schools of their choice, including charter and private schools.

Trump called school choice “one of the most important issues in this campaign.” He intends to use existing federal funding to support these grants but has not specified the source of the funding.

The campaign stop may have been a successful one for Trump, who moved more than half a point ahead of Clinton in the Ohio polls within a week of his visit and maintained his lead there until Saturday, October 8th, the day after The Washington Post released a video of Trump making lewd comments about women in 2005.

Trump has previously denounced the Common Core standards and suggested scaling back the Department of Education, claiming that the federal government should be less involved in education. He calls for education to be the domain of state and local governments and for competition in the education market, fueled by school choice.

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, stands opposed to a school-choice system, although she has long supported charter schools. She writes on her website that Trump’s plan for grants would “decimate public schools” and “deprive our most vulnerable students.”

Speaking with Newsday in April, Clinton acknowledged a need for national standards, in part to compare U.S. performance to other countries, but critiqued the implementation of Common Core, stating “we have to do a better job of explaining” to parents how standards benefit students.

Clinton’s education policies include preschool for all children, free community college for all students, and tuition costs scaled to family income so that—by 2021—families earning $125,000 annually will pay no tuition at public universities in their state. Clinton proposes debt-free college education to students attending in-state public universities.

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Sam Clovis, policy director of Trump’s campaign and economics professor at Morningside College, rejected the idea of free community college and Clinton’s debt-free college plan, calling such ideas “absurd.” Instead, Trump would seek to privatize college loans and have colleges share student-loan risk.

Clovis also spoke of using a student’s intended major and future income prospects to determine eligibility for loans, limiting liberal arts students’ access to loans.

At the high school level, Clinton has advocated for all public high school students to have access to computer science classes and for strong STEM curricula. In response to questions posed to all candidates by Science Debate, Clinton called for broadening educational opportunities in the computer science field to “help prepare the diverse tech workforce of tomorrow.”

Clinton also recognized that students of color are less likely to have access to STEM courses in high school and pledged support to “innovative schools…engaging underrepresented populations.”

Asked about research and innovation, Clinton set forth the importance of government investment in research, the government’s role in creating access to government-funded research results, and the need to increase manufacturing in America.

During Sunday’s debate, both candidates briefly mentioned education topics while rebuffing each other’s criticisms. Trump declared “the inner cities of our country” to be “a disaster education-wise.”

Clinton referenced her public service career, stating, “I started off as a young lawyer working against discrimination against African-American children in schools and in the criminal justice system. I worked to make sure that kids with disabilities could get a public education, something that I care about very much.”

She then readdressed the first question, drawing on concerns of the “Trump effect,” or an increase in bullying among schoolchildren that is viewed by some as an effect of Trump’s campaign rhetoric.

While education in the second presidential debate was clearly neglected, what role education policies will play in the last month on the campaign trail remains to be seen. The third and final presidential debate will take place on Wednesday, October 9th, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

More stories on education in the presidential race:

What Clinton’s Tech Agenda Means for EdTech

Education Debates Make the 2016 Presidential Race

Adelia Humme

Adelia Humme

Previously an academic adviser at her alma mater, Texas A&M University, Adelia has contributed her editorial skills to The Eckleburg Project, Redivider, and Texas A&M University Press. She recently moved from Texas to Boston to pursue a master's degree in publishing & writing at Emerson College. She devotes her free time to reading fantasy novels and spoiling cats.