Randy McGirr on YouTube Debate

McGirr grills the Democrats
about No Child Left Behind

Photo: via Youtube

The scene is Ophir Mine, an abandoned mine site located in Searles Valley, California. The rock music starts and the edgy male vocals ask: “the nclb was such a scam/ so now you tell me, sir or mam/ would you scrap the whole thing or just revise?/ tell me the truth, don’t tell me no lies.” After brief applause, Anderson Cooper directs the question to Bill Richardson.

The YouTube video by “blackturtleus” was selected for CNN’s YouTube debate Monday. Blackturtleus is also known as Randy McGirr, a San Diego native who now lives in Trona, California. Trona is a town of about 2,000 near Death Valley and is, according to Randy, “about as rural as it gets.”

McGirr is a teacher and serves as the Trona Teachers’ Association union president, so his question about the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law was serious. “I’ve been quite distressed about NCLB and specifically how it does not take into account the unique needs of small schools,” McGirr wrote in an email to the Yonder on Tuesday. “My intent was for the ruins [of the mine] to represent the state that education is currently in as a direct result of NCLB.”

Randy teaches sixth grade, but he has held various positions at the school. “One thing about a small school district is that you wind up with lots of experience teaching lots of subjects!” he wrote. McGirr explained his problems with NCLB:

“The biggest problem I see that is especially difficult for rural schools under NCLB is staffing. This is especially true at the high school level. Certain classes are taught only once every two years and require a specialized credential. Under NCLB every teacher must be fully qualified to teach every class he or she is assigned to teach. It is impossible for a small high school with a staff of nine or ten teachers to have a fully qualified (teacher in these classes)”¦it’s hard to get teachers to even accept positions out in the middle of nowhere and if the job requirements are too stringent there won’t be any qualified applicants at all! “

When not teaching, Randy creates quirky YouTube videos (including a debate question requesting a tunnel between Alaska and Russia) and writes self-published books that often feature children living in rural areas. His books, and his politics, are greatly affected by living in Trona.

Two other rural Americans had videos chosen for Monday night’s debate. Tony Fuller, from Wellston, Ohio, sat in his bedroom with a U.S. Army poster in the right side of the screen, and asked whether women should be required to register for the draft when they turn eighteen.

Jordan Williams is a nineteen-year-old pre-law student at the University of Kansas from Coffeyville, Kansas, a town of about 10,000 people. According to Jordan, growing up in a conservative town pushed him toward the more liberal worldview he has today.

Jordan Williams

YouTube questioner Jordan Williams

Williams said he did not consider asking a question specifically about rural issue when he posted a YouTube question, which he did on a whim. Inspired by a feminist and black literature class he took last semester, Jordan asked for Senators Obama and Clinton to respond to critics who claim they are not “black enough or female enough.”

The word “rural” wasn’t mentioned Monday night, nor were issues peculiar to small town America. (In previous debates, Democrats had mentioned “rural” more than Republicans.) John Edwards did say he would not support industries that turn coal into liquid fuel, a process that has both backing and opposition in Kentucky. When asked about nuclear power, Edwards said, “biofuels are the way we need to go.” As for coal-to-liquid technology, Edwards said, “the last thing we need is another carbon based fuel in America.”

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd seemed to miss the fact that the winds of Katrina struck both cities and countryside when the hurricane landed in 1975. In response to a question asking whether or not race played an issue in the response to Katrina, Dodd said, “We can never ever allow again a major city, a major population center in our country go through what New Orleans, the Gulf states did as a result of the kind of neglect from an American president.” Presumably, Dodd would extend that protection to smaller towns.

While Randy, Jordan, and Tony did not ask questions that were uniquely rural, they reminded us that the voices of rural America are not that far removed from their city cousins. The No Child Left Behind Act, a national policy, is very much a rural issue at McGirr’s school in Trona, and it is just as important in the inner city of New York.

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