New Political Star Dave Brat Ponders Rock-Bottom Classroom Funding

By Ross Brenneman — June 12, 2014 2 min read
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You might have heard about the political maelstrom generated Tuesday night when Randolph-Macon College professor Dave Brat beat U.S. House of Representatives majority leader Eric Cantor in a Virginia primary election. Over at Politics K-12, Lauren Camera writes about what areas of education policy might lose support with Cantor going out of office. (Spoiler: school choice issues.) But what about the man running to replace him?

Politicians frequently talk about education, yet aside from the occasional representative who says that Common Core State Standards will turn children gay, most of it’s pretty standard rhetoric. But according to a Mother Jones breakdown of Brat’s different policy positions, there’s a video (now listed as private on YouTube) in which Brat apparently called for reduced education funding, in part by arguing this:

My hero Socrates trained in [sic] Plato on a rock. How much did that cost? So the greatest minds in history became the greatest minds in history without spending a lot of money.

Sure, you could cut school funding until there’s just a bunch of teachers on a bunch of rocks, but that scenario belies much of what school funding is actually used for. You can tell Brat isn’t running to represent a district covering Philadelphia, where the school district is in a deep financial crisis, and not because teachers aren’t using the Socratic method. Here’s an excerpt from a recent article by my colleagues Evie Blad and Denisa Superville about the recent death of a 12-year-old in a Philadelphia school:

Ms. Peiffer, from the Pennsylvania School Nurses Association, said that her group has been lobbying the state legislature to lower the nurse-to-student ratio, but that each time, the group has hit the same roadblock: money.

In Philadelphia, 90 of the district’s 214 schools have full-time nurses. The rest are assigned nurses on a part-time basis. Andrew Jackson Elementary, where the young boy collapsed, has a school nurse scheduled every Thursday and every other Friday, said Fernando Gallard, the district’s spokesman.

And on a more academic note, according to the fairly authoritative Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, we don’t actually know much about Socrates, and we know only a little more about Plato. What we do know about Plato suggests that he came from a very wealthy family.

Maybe Socrates’ magic was in the rock, though? Donors Choose has very few rocks listed among the books and field trips that teachers want funding for, but maybe this has been an unfortunate oversight. Teachers, would you rather have gypsum, or granite, for trigonometry? Would sedimentary or metamorphic rock better help students ponder the nature of mitosis? Because that’s kind of like having a microscope.

Image: A period of lesser funding. Credit: Jacques-Louis David/Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1931/Wikipedia

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.