Reporters Notebook: Hopefuls Off and Running
Chapel Hill, nc--"Accountability" was the preferred catchword of Presidential contenders during the debates on education held here. The Democrats used the word or a variant eight times during the course of their session, while the Republicans managed to use it 20 times.
Meanwhile, one Republican candidate, former Gov. Pete du Pont of Delaware, picked up on the latest in educational jargon. Mr. du Pont praised the Reagan Administration for suggesting that the Congress "voucherize" Chapter 1, the federal remedial-education program.
U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, who also attended the debate, joined the candidates in a little partisan sparring.
During the Democratic half of the program, Senator Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee said that on election night "I would send a telegram to Secretary of Education William Bennett and tell him to start cleaning out his desk. I would appoint a working teacher as Secretary of Education."
Mr. Bennett afterward told reporters that he was a "big boy" and could take the kind of "Bennett bashing" the Democrats dished out. But he later refused to shake Mr. Gore's hand and objected to the Senator's contention that he had not meant anything personal by his remarks.
Said the Secretary of Mr. Gore: "He takes all my ideas and then fires me." The two men agreed that they would be willing to debate their differences any time.
One of the media celebrities recruited to ask follow-up questions of the candidates at the end of each session--Judy Woodruff, a reporter for the public-television program "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour"--garnered almost as much attention as the candidates.
At the end of the Democratic session, Ms. Woodruff could be seen on stage autographing debate programs for some student fans.
Edward B. Fiske, education editor of The New York Times, also questioned the candidates.
Most of those attending the debates gave the highest "charisma" rating to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a contender for the Democratic nomination. In one of his characteristic plays on words, Mr. Jackson said President Reagan's "only concept of aid is to the contras. It has nothing to do with aid for people who have aids and families who are affected by aids."
Mr. Jackson also drew hundreds in the audience to their feet when he asked those who knew someone in their school who had taken drugs to stand. While they were standing, he asked them to raise their hands if they knew someone their age who had contemplated suicide.
"You cannot speak of education and budget and competency out of the context of this profound moral, spiritual dilemma and crisis in values," he said.
Immediately following the debate, Mr. Jackson strode over to a group of students holding aloft a set of placards that spelled "J-E-S-S-E" and told them, "Every student on this campus must be a registered voter and active in politics."
Both Republican and Democratic candidates tried to outdo each other in demonstrating their concern for public education, in part by pointing to the teachers in their families.
Among the Democrats, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware noted that he is married to a "full-time schoolteacher," and Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts said that his mother was a teacher.
Representative Jack Kemp of New York, a Republican, credited members of his family with shaping his views about public education.
"It was my mother, a public-school teacher; and my wife, a public-school teacher; and my father-in-law, a superintendent of schools; and a daughter who is a public- school teacher" who influenced him, Mr. Kemp said, "and I want to see this country devoted to healthy public schools that teach excellence."
While they were in North Carolina, several of the candidates used the occasion to visit some local schools.
Mr. du Pont, for example, discussed his ideas about educational choice with students at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics the day before the debate.
And Governor Dukakis spent a morning in a junior high school talking with students about drug abuse.--lo