Pubdate: Mon, 25 Apr 2016
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2016 Austin American-Statesman
Note: Letters MUST be 150 words or less
Author: Lorna Hermosura
Note: Hermosura is a research fellow in the Institute for Urban 
Policy Research and Analysis and a doctoral student in the education 
policy and planning program at the University of Texas.


As we prepare to vote for the next president of the United States, it 
is important for voters to carefully consider the character of the 
candidates. Why? Because although a presidential term only lasts for 
four years, a president's policies and legacy can cause devastation 
for decades.

Case in point: President Richard Nixon and the "War on Drugs."

Nixon's drug policies that began in the 1970s seeped into our 
nation's education policy 20 years later; today it funnels hundreds 
of thousands of youths from schools into prison.

Voters should keep in mind that we are entrusting the president to 
influence federal and state policies that shape our day-to-day 
existence. Much of what happens - in our schools, with our food and 
drinking water, with our health care, jobs, housing and 
transportation - is shaped by policies that are ultimately put in 
place, reauthorized or rescinded by people appointed or influenced by 
the president.

In his book "Smoke and Mirrors," author Dan Baum detailed his 
interview with Nixon's chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, who quoted 
Nixon as saying, "You have to face the fact that the whole problem is 
really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this 
while not appearing to."

Baum noted that the year before Nixon declared drug use to be "public 
enemy No. 1," the number of deaths (3,707) from the flu was nearly 
double the number of deaths (1,899) involving legal and illegal drugs combined.

Decades after his presidency, Nixon's policies wreak havoc on our 
nation's youths. The school-to-prison pipeline is a direct descendant 
of Nixon's Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, 
reauthorized by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 as the Anti-Drug 
Abuse Act, which included the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. 
This was then reauthorized by President Bill Clinton as the Safe and 
Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1994, which tied federal 
school funding to student behavior reporting and mandated 
zero-tolerance policies.

This effectively diverted educator attention away from teaching and 
learning toward scrutinizing student behavior, and incentivized 
overdisciplining students and over-reporting behavioral infractions 
to demonstrate a need for additional funds. Zero-tolerance policies 
mandated harsh punishments for students' behavioral infractions 
without consideration for the circumstances surrounding them, and 
mandated schools to report specific student behavior to the criminal 
justice or juvenile delinquency system.

These policies then converged with President George W. Bush's No 
Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which centered schooling on 
accountability and standardized testing and incentivized pushing 
low-scoring students off school rosters. Together, these policies 
cemented the school-to-prison pipeline.

Manifesting Nixon's intentions, the school-to-prison pipeline affects 
African-American students at a rate three times higher than all other 
students. A 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Education's Office 
of Civil Rights showed that 260,000 public school students nationwide 
were referred to law enforcement, and 92,000 students were subjected 
to school-related arrests during the 2011-2012 school year alone.

Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward, who worked with Carl 
Bernstein in the early 1970s to investigate and expose the Watergate 
scandal, recently said: "We missed the story. The story was 
character." The story should have exposed Nixon's character before he 
assumed office, Woodward said, so voters could knowingly cast their 
votes for president.

And that's exactly what voters need to keep in mind when heading to 
the polls. In this age of social media, we can knowingly cast our 
votes by looking beyond the headlines and sound bites and examining 
each presidential candidate's character.

We must pay attention to how candidates behave outside of planned 
settings. Doing so will provide insight on the content of their 
character. Their Twitter posts, interactions with rally attendees, 
reactions to one another, and their history of leadership and policy 
decisions are far more telling than scripted responses at debates and 
public events.

As Nixon taught us, our president's character indeed matters. Let's 
use our breadth of resources to elect a president whose character we 
can trust to uplift us all - today and in our future.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom