John Locke was an English philosopher and political theorist of the seventeenth century who made important contributions regarding the principles of Classical Liberalism. He believed that government was essential in order to regulate and create laws. Locke also defended the idea that teaching ethical values was the most important type of education. According to Locke, the role of education was not to create a scholar but to create a virtuous man. His political ideas have influenced many important figures during our history. One of them is Barack Obama, who became the 44th president of the United States on January 20, 2009. As the first African American to serve in Office, Obama’s policy position regarding education classifies him as a Democrat with liberal ideals.
On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This policy allowed eligible young students (the Dreamers) who came to the United States as children to be protected from deportation by having granted them the possibility of renewing their work permits every two years. According to the article titled “DACA Helps Undocumented Students Access Higher Education” by Sanam Malik, and published in the Center for American Progress, “Each year, an estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school. Many of these students dream of pursuing higher education, but they face significant hurdles due to their lack of legal status […] DACA has eased many of the burdens that undocumented students face in higher education—from gaining access to in-state tuition in many states, to be able to work legally for higher wages, to added job security after graduation.” It is outrageous the number of undocumented students who graduate high school with the dream to pursue higher education, yet they are unable to attend college due to their legal status. The Obama administration made possible that these students received a social security number, allowing them to apply to multiple colleges, universities, and financial aid programs. This policy demonstrates the liberal ideal that documented and undocumented immigrants have the rights to all the health and educational benefits that citizens receive.
Furthermore, President Obama signed into law Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on December 10, 2015, with the purpose to ensure students excel at school. ESSA is the main federal law for K-12 public schools that replaced George Bush’s law No Child Left Behind. According to the U.S. Department of Education, ESSA “advances equity by upholding critical protections for America's disadvantaged and high-need students,” and “requires—for the first time—that all students in America be taught to high academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers.” This policy towards education demonstrated that education was one of President Obama’s priorities. Obama’s liberal policy established that the best way to educate students was through public schools. It also advocated for increasing budget to raise the salary of teachers as well as decreasing the number of students per classroom.
Another example of President Obama efforts towards a better education is the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This blueprint had the purpose to improve the principal and teachers’ effectiveness, prepare students for career and college standards, involve families in the evaluations and improvements of the educational centers, and provide intensive support and effective interventions to students attending low-performing schools. President Obama in his letter “A Blueprint for Reform” expressed that the United States education system was no longer the best-educated nation of the world not due to the fact that students were performing low at school but because the government was not regulating education as it should. In order to locate this nation as the world leading country in college competition, the “national priority” was to guarantee that every high school graduate was well prepared to pursue higher education. Obama also believed that world-class education was the key to a fair, just and equal society. He asked our communities and families to support children’s education, and schools to provide services that fulfill student’s needs. As he said, “My Administration's blueprint for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is not only a plan to renovate a flawed law but also an outline for a re-envisioned federal role in education.”
After analyzing President Barack Obama’s most significant education policies and reforms, it is understandable that he exhibits characteristics of liberalism. While it is true that no president in history has been pure liberal or conservative, Obama had been able to follow most of the principles of classical and modern liberalism. As we have seen, he believed in equal rights, no matter people’s religious backgrounds or homeland. To him, government participation in order to enhance people -especially students- rights was fundamental. Following the principles of classical liberalism presented by Locke, Obama is classified as a liberal.
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