Senators Barack Obama and John McCain dug into the topic of education during their third and final debate last night, even devoting a little bit of time to children with disabilities. Hooray!
I’ll be digging more deeply into their comments in other posts, but I think that a lot of people were left scratching their heads at McCain’s statements that seemed to suggest that having a baby with Down syndrome gives his running mate, Sarah Palin, special insight into autism.
Early in the debate, as McCain described Palin’s qualifications for office, there was this:
She's a reformer through and through. And it's time we had that breath of fresh air coming into our nation's capital and sweep out the old-boy network and the cronyism that's been so much a part of it that I've fought against for all these years. She'll be my partner. She understands reform. And, by the way, she also understands special-needs families. She understands that autism is on the rise, that we've got to find out what's causing it, and we've got to reach out to these families, and help them, and give them the help they need as they raise these very special needs children. She understands that better than almost any American that I know. I'm proud of her.
Later on in the debate, as the two candidates tussled over education policy, McCain added:
Now as far as the No Child Left Behind is concerned, it was a great first beginning in my view. It had its flaws, it had its problems, the first time we had looked at the issue of education in America from a nationwide perspective. And we need to fix a lot of the problems. We need to sit down and reauthorize it. But, again, spending more money isn't always the answer. I think the Head Start program is a great program. A lot of people, including me, said, look, it's not doing what it should do. By the third grade many times children who were in the Head Start program aren't any better off than the others. Let's reform it. Let's reform it and fund it. That was, of course, out-of-bounds by the Democrats. We need to reform these programs. We need to have transparency. We need to have rewards. It's a system that cries out for accountability and transparency and the adequate funding. And I just said to you earlier, town hall meeting after town hall meeting, parents come with kids, children -- precious children who have autism. Sarah Palin knows about that better than most. And we'll find and we'll spend the money, research, to find the cause of autism. And we'll care for these young children. And all Americans will open their wallets and their hearts to do so.
More than a few bloggers on both sides of the aisle thought McCain might be confusing the two disabilities. But, though most people know that Palin’s son Trig has Down syndrome, fewer may know that she has a nephew with autism. Hopefully, McCain knows that too, which is why he framed his responses the way he did.
So there is a familial relationship there, but the question voters have to answer is, does Palin know more about this topic “than most?” What do you think, readers? And does it matter that of all the disabilities that could be discussed in that venue, autism ended up with the starring role?
(Let me also take the opportunity to plug a new widget on my blog that allows you to search the blog for past items. It’s on the lower right, under the list of “Blogs I Follow.” Using that search engine, you can find all of my past entries on the candidates, including links to their proposed disability policies.)
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.