The newspaper these days is filled with opinions about candidates and their politics. And this past Sunday, my husband pointed out an OpEd piece titled, “Donald Trump’s Captain Underpants’ Campaign.” Being the librarian that I hope to become, I was intrigued. What could Captain Underpants and Donald Trump possibly have in common? In the piece, writer Dana Milbank addresses the communication levels of popular political candidates. He used the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Index to, “measure sophistication by syllables per word and words per sentence.” And although this is, “meant for written language,” it applies to “campaign speeches and debates and gives a rough sense of the relative levels of candidates’ rhetoric.” I’ll admit that when I first read the article, I laughed. Sure, it was a clever piece, but it really stuck with me.
At Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate, Ben Carson delivered an opening statement about “the abyss of destruction.” An analysis shows he was communicating at the level of a 10th-grader’s comprehension. Marco Rubio, who spoke of “the identity of America in the 21st century,” was also at the high school level. Ted Cruz and John Kasich were at middle school comprehension levels.
And then there was Trump – at a third-grade level: “We don’t win anymore. We’re going to make a great country again. We’re going to start winning again. We’re going to win a lot. It’s going to be a big difference, believe me.”
And just to make sure that we touch on all political parties, Democrat Bernie Sanders spoke at a 9th grade level and Hillary Clinton at a 7th grade level.
Understandably, candidates want their constituents to understand and relate to certain rhetoric; they want folks to comprehend what they they are trying to communicate. But I cannot forget one particularly haunting quote from the piece. After his win in the Nevada primary, Trump stated, “I love the poorly educated.” And my fear is that he loves them because he feels that he can take advantage of them. And while some may say that Trump has more in common with Magic Treehouse, Rainbow Fairies, and yes, even Captain Underpants, this piece made me stop and think about the future of our educational system. Children who are in schools now are the future and deserve to be able to make educated choices as they grow and become part of something greater. They need to be able to read, comprehend, and analyze. I know that this sounds totally hokey, but unless you’re made of stronger stuff than me, you can’t bear to think about children losing out on a bright future!
Whether you love, hate, or love to hate politics, this year will be one where we will hear about the good and the bad in America and who is going to “fix” it. There’s been a lot of talk lately about “making America great” so, naturally I’ve gotten to thinking about what already makes America great. Although we have seen our fair share of educational reform in the last 20 years, one of the very best things that we can give children is a wonderful public education. We can support it and help it grow as teachers, librarians, parents, and citizens. How many of us learned in American history class that this is the “land of opportunity?” But shouldn’t it be a land of opportunity for all?
Politicking aside, if we can’t teach children to read and comprehend, we are limiting their future. They won’t be able to participate in our political elections or to understand articles in the newspaper. When we refuse to acknowledge issues of inequality and poverty in our society and seem unable to admit to working through finding real solutions, we are essentially limiting the future. And whether we agree or disagree politically is inconsequential; one thing that we can all agree on is that the impact of our educational system on the future is too great to ignore.
And who would have guessed that Captain Underpants and Donald Trump have so much in common?