Obama vs Romney: A College English Teacher Grades Each Campaign


I'm excited that both presidential campaigns chose to answer PolicyMic's question regarding college graduates and their future. As a current college English teacher, I also want my students to succeed. Therefore, I'm going to analyze the two campaign responses as an English teacher.

First, the Obama campaign response:

The response can be summarized as "I understand you and am fighting for you. Here are a few things I'll do for you, and here are five additional things I did in the past four years. This being personal, I expect you to fight for me."

The response begins with a statement that the president understands young college graduates and "is fighting" for them. In the usual position where a claim would be found, is a sentence that indicates the Obamas just paid off their student loans eight years ago.

Paragraph two would be a good summary of "this is what I want to do for you," if it did not include a Frankenstein sentence combining Wall Street and the financial crisis with the government take-over of student loans. Paragraph three presents an interesting conundrum. It addresses tuition and loan growth, but the careful reader might notice that it promises these reductions will occur over the next 10 years, and the president is running for a second four-year term. It also says it will "cut growth in half." Cutting present growth rates in half will still far outpace overall growth in the economy.

The next paragraph summarizes grounds for the claims that "Mitt Romney sucks," and "Paul Ryan is scary." References to the opponents' encouragement of turning to parents for loans and paying for education through work are assumed to be frightening and negative; this is not necessarily true. The response concludes with the statement: "This election is personal." For whom? The response was to be addressed to PolicyMic readers, not the president or his campaign.

Grade: C+

The writer has a lot to say, but is having difficulty focusing on a coherent message. Some statements are questionable, such as "Higher education is an economic necessity for all Americans." Needs a clear claim and thesis. Association between college graduates, jobs, loans, and "fighting" is unclear.

Now for the Romney response.

This could be summarized as "College costs and student debt have skyrocketed in the past four years and half of graduates don't have jobs in order to repay the loans. This has happened under President Obama. Romney plans to get the economy working again, which will make things better through innovation and competition."

The claim is clear: prospects for young Americans have grown dramatically worse over the past four years. Additionally, it is President Obama's policies that have contributed to increased college costs and student debt.

Specific grounds are provided for the claim in the form of facts: $1 trillion in student debt, and a 25% increase in college tuition and fees in four years.

The solutions presented are getting the economy working again: "innovation and competition," and "strengthening and simplifying the student aid system."

The response includes a rebuttal to the perceived position of the Obama campaign (regulation and more government spending) by encouraging innovation and competition. The conclusion provides three planned actions of the Romney campaign which reiterate positions taken earlier in the response.

Grade: B-

In real college, this response would probably have received a B or B+. It is written by someone with an awareness of structure, organization and coherence. However, in the context of this circumstance, the response is very short on specific actions. The response has sufficient grounds to support its claim that things are bad for recent college graduates, and have grown worse over the past four years. Offering solutions to the problems raised by the claim is the primary weakness. As one example, strong support would have been added with an explanation of how removal of government interference could benefit students.

From the college English teacher's perspective, the two responses present a challenge that is reflected in all classrooms. Some students have many ideas and experience difficulty focusing them in a coherent manner, and they also experience difficulty separating the personal from the professional and intellectual, a problem evident in the Obama campaign response. Other students are well-focused, but experience difficulty in expanding their thoughts or making the step in sophistication and complexity from a B to an A, which is evident in the Romney campaign response.

It is very apparent to this English teacher which campaign writer did take rhetoric and composition with a good teacher. If the Obama campaign is to be believed, that a college education is an economic necessity for all Americans, then every American deserves to learn how to properly write.