What’s missing on the 2012 campaign trial? OEP Alums weigh in

Suffering in Africa isn’t a typical debate topic in American politics, but alum Sarah Pollak urged President Obama to support the opposition to the regime of Omar al-Bashir in her recent article. Pollak quotes Obama, pulling from morally charged speeches that proclaim America will support all who stand up against tyranny for freedom. Pollak lays out the obvious moral obligation to extend support to the Sudanese, citing the millions of deaths ushered in by decades of civil war and conflict with the Janjaweed militias.

But what made her article powerful was not only the moral lens through which she wrote. Pollak made a persuasive Imageargument for Obama’s need to extend support to Sudan by writing about the aid he provided to Libyan rebels and the economic frustrations in Sudan that have spurred violent riots.

Rather than writing vaguely that Obama must hold true to the American ideal of helping all who are oppressed, Pollak suggests concretely that Obama should promise aid and offer encouragement, should the rebels succeed in overthrowing Bashir, to avoid backing a losing protest. Pollak references successful Sudanese revolutions, and also argues that Obama must support Sudanese rebels in the interest of American national security.

Having read and heard countless moral arguments about America’s need to support the Sudanese, Pollak’s article stands out as one that pairs ethics with logistics, values with political policy.

Alums Scott Warren, Iris Chen, and Eric Schwarz also highlighted an issue absent from political discourse: civics education. While both Obama and Romney speak at length about plans to improve America’s public schools, they fail to comment on the lack of civics learning. Warren, Chen and Schwarz cite scary statistics: only 1/3 of Americans can name the three branches of government, and the US ranks 120th out of 169 democracies in voter turnout.

ImageThere are scores of problems in American education, but the article asserts that a narrow focus on standardized test scores and math and literary competency has lead to even more neglect of civics education. While the state of education jeopardizes US economic growth, global influence, and safety, the lack of civic literacy and engagement threatens the American democratic system. These OEP alums put it simply: “we cannot have “government by the people” if the people do not know how to govern.”

I found great value in this article, which was similar to Pollak’s. Though the subjects varied, the arguments are strong. Warren, Chen and Schwarz balance the American value of engaged, informed citizens with clear-cut solutions. They propose integrated educational programs through which students exercise their reading and math skills while taking civic action: speaking publicly, reading policy papers, and analyzing surveys of community problems.

Congrats, Sarah, Scott, Iris, and Eric, on your compelling op-eds! Thank you for highlighting issues of great national consequence.

Anna Meixler

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