Rashad Taylor Builds the Foundation of His House with Education

James Sasso, Associate Editor

Representative Rashad Taylor, 28, of the 55th district of Georgia certainly believes that Generation Y has the potential to change the world, but if America continues to ignore its failing education system, he fears that a whole generation of abilities and leaders may be lost.

The Deputy Whip for the House Democratic Caucus in Georgia and the former Political Director of the Democratic Party of Georgia, Taylor knows about our country’s education system. Among other House groups such as Ways and Means, MARTOC (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Overview Committee), for whose Subcommittee on Infrastructure and Maintenance he chairs, Mr. Taylor belongs to the Education Committee. In fact, Atlanta recently came under national fire for a cheating scandal where teachers and/or administrators would change the standardized test answers of their students in order to improve the school’s overall status. As a leading member of the Education committee, Mr. Taylor has had to focus even more on education.

Taylor recognizes that if the current method for assigning funding to schools, namely through pay for performance systems reliant on standardized testing, does not change, then this scandal may not turn into an isolated incident. If schools are short on cash, which makes them less likely to perform well, but they only receive funding if they do well, it could lead to an increasing amount of teachers and administrators changing student test scores with the hopes of becoming benefactors of “pay for performance” funding.  Basically, “people will do what they need to survive,” says Taylor.

While he does fully support the Obama administration’s desire to improve America’s education system, he believes that the system needs a serious upgrade—one perfectly in line with the rapidly advancing technological world in which Generation Y grew up. “Reforms are really about a new way of doing things,” he says, “really about trying to revamp how we educate our kids, because the way we’ve been doing it before clearly is not working.” Taylor clearly agrees with the Obama administration’s efforts to reward teachers who perform well, but he wishes that there were a better way to evaluate a teacher than simply using the old standardized tests:

“We need to get a little more innovative about how we teach students, we still do scantron sheets! I mean, we have iPads and iPhones, touch screen everything, and we’re still talking about using erasers and No. 2 pencils on tests!”

Representative Taylor further believes that the failing education system could lead to worsening the cycle of American economic failures because “the education system is so tied into our economic growth.” Poor education breeds an undesirable workforce, ill-suited for the 21st century, which in turn worsens the economy, which in turn only hurts the education system. As Representative Taylor believes, education is the most important service a government can provide:

“You need to make education a priority.  When you sit down at home for your monthly expenses, the first thing you know you have to pay is your mortgage or else you won’t have a place to live. Maybe you can go without heat, maybe you can go without electricity for a month, but you can’t go without a roof over your head…If education is the most critical thing we have to fund [then] it is the house, it is the roof. You have to pay your whole mortgage. You can’t tell Bank of America ‘I’m just going to send you 70 percent,’ you have to come up with the rest, or in a month or so you’re going to find yourself out on the street, and we’re going to find a lot of kids out on the street because we’re not fully funding education.”

The metaphor of the house fits perfectly into Representative Taylor’s political philosophy: without a strong educational foundation, the structure of both American Government and society will crumble. Why, then, do a majority of school systems in America find themselves underfunded, especially since it seems that everybody can agree to the importance of education?

The problem, in short, is politicians.“We gotta have the political will to get things done,” says Taylor, “I think the public is there, but I think they are only there for certain things, and education is one of them.” Mr. Taylor blames partisanship for the lack of action. People, he believes, are entirely willing to pay for better schools, “but the problem is there [isn’t] the political will to do it.” Even when Democrats brought a proposal to fill the education budget gap in Georgia without increasing taxes, Republicans refused to discuss such a solution “because Democrats had raised it.”

Representative Taylor sees this kind of partisanship, where lawmakers pointlessly bicker and fail to reach compromises, as one of the key factors that explain Generation Y’s supposed apathy towards politics. Generation Y is focused “on getting stuff done.”  The constant fighting of politicians only serves to turn the result driven youth away from the political forum.

Taylor, though, still believes that Generation Y can lead the world effectively.  He argues that because of today’s hyper-partisanship, the next generation of leaders will look more towards compromise. As he says, “we expect our electeds to actually deliver, and the partisanship has become a roadblock,” towards having effective, timely and responsible legislation. Generation Y found political energy with the Obama campaign because he promised a new type of leadership: one that looked for similarities in differing ideologies instead of only trying to entirely denounce the opposition. Whether or not the partisanship actually will subside must wait to be seen, but no one can deny that Generation Y has the political potential to affect real change in the world.

Generation Y’s ability to lead, though, depends on whether or not this political potential is put to use.  Generation Y’ers tend to act directly to affect change in the community, such as by taking part in Teach for America, rather than trying to enact change indirectly through politics.  Political participation for today’s under-30’s only can be described adequately as “dismal.”  Generation Y rarely votes, which is the primary way of becoming politically involved. But a lack of political participation does not equate to apathy, Mr. Taylor believes. Today’s youth is very active concerning social justice, but because of a lack of trust for modern partisan politics, they choos to bypass the government and throw themselves directly into helping the world.

In the end, whether fortunately or unfortunately, to induce real widespread change, one generally has to have political power of one sort or another. And the only way to get this political power is to become involved, through voting and other methods, so that politicians will pay attention to the issues about which Generation Y is concerned. Politics is a game of winning. As Mr. Taylor says today’s youth “can expect older folks in this business to continue to pay less attention to our issues and our agenda until we get more involved.”

And again, this all comes back to education. Mr. Taylor rightfully believes that the lack of a first-rate education system breeds a lack of political participation. Students read less every year. If one does not read, how can he hope to know about the world?  If he does not know about the world outside of his bubble, why would he want to change it? Political participation will increase only as education increases.

Look out for Representative Taylor. He holds a well-grounded political ideology about how to help fix the looming and current problems in America. He is a man who firmly believes that education should be one of the primary focuses, if not the primary focus, of a government—something that hopefully Washington comes to understand.  There was good reason that Campaigns and Elections Magazine named him one of 10 rising stars in national politics in June 2007, when he was 25. He deserves all of the accolades he’s received, and as he continues to impress with his strong political will and leadership, he likely will earn more.

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