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Teaching Profession

Life Imitating Art ... Kinda

By Alyson Klein — May 27, 2008 1 min read

From contributing blogger Alyson Klein:

So apparently it’s not just my editor and fan of NBC’s “The West Wing” Mark Walsh who noticed that the 2008 presidential election bares an uncanny resemblance to the final two seasons of the multi-award winning drama.

The Washington Post had a piece on the similarities this week. Apparently, it’s not a total coincidence, as the TV show’s writers had Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois specifically in mind when they created Rep. Matt Santos of Texas, played by Jimmy Smits.

But one major (and lamentable) difference: In the fictional campaign, education was actually a major issue. And teachers’ unions’ endorsements were pivotal, according to wikipedia and my (admittedly hazy) memory. Santos made his education plan - ending teacher tenure and extending the school day - a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. His Republican opponent, Sen. Arnold Vinick (played by Alan Alda), said he supported ending teacher tenure, but saw an expansion of the federal role in education as an overreach of authority, according to this chart comparing their positions, which appears to have been created by a fan of the show.

At a brokered Democratic convention in the sixth season finale, Santos won the nomination because of the last minute backing of the teachers’ unions. They weren’t crazy about the plan to end teacher tenure, but threw their support to Santos anyway, at the behest of President Jeb Bartlett.

I’m sure that would have brought the fictional NEA and AFT more than just a seat at the table for any reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, although the show never waded into that. Maybe Reg Weaver and Ed McElroy should dust off their DVDs and take some notes, especially since at the end of the seventh and final season of “The West Wing,” Santos won the White House.

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