Disapproving hisses and supportive slaps of chairs alternated as former senatorial candidate Joe Miller LAW ’95 delivered a speech opposing federal involvement in the American education system Tuesday evening.
The Tea Party politician, who was invited to campus by the Yale Political Union, told a group of about 130 undergraduates in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall that federal involvement in education is unconstitutional and has not yielded good results for the country. Still, the majority of the crowd expressed disapproval of Miller’s position in the debate, and YPU members ultimately voted against his stance by a vote of 31 to 23.
“The government wants to control the masses,” he said in his speech, evoking strong hisses from the audience.
A former U.S. magistrate judge, Miller said constitutional law provides the strongest support for his argument, arguing that education is legally a state responsibility and pointing out that the Constitution has no mention of the words “education” or “school.”
Miller warned that ignoring the country’s constitutional foundation would damage the rule of law, setting a precedent that may result in a “tyranny of the majority.”
Miller’s speech included a survey of the U.S. government’s involvement in education throughout history, pointing out that the federal government has not intervened in education for the majority of U.S. history. Calling the current state of government regulation “socialistic,” Miller said federal regulation and subsidies have hardly improved the system since then.
“There is an incredible amount of money going into the system, and test scores are still a flat line,” Miller said. “Over the past 50 years, money has gone up while performance has gone down.”
Miller criticized the “No Child Left Behind” act passed by the administration of George W. Bush ’68, calling the legislation a “one-size-fits-all solution” to a problem that states have the ability to manage more effectively.
While his comments garnered disapproval from most students in attendance, Conservative Party members often displayed support.
“Miller was able to articulate key conservative principles in an engaging manner,” Conservative Party member Harry Graver ’14 said. “[Speakers like these are] a very needed force at Yale.”
Miller’s speech was followed by several undergraduate speakers, speaking alternately in favor and against his proposals. Speakers who opposed Miller’s view argued that the U.S. government has promoted equality and opportunity in education, as well as provided a crucial source of funding.
When challenged with questions from audience members, Miller frequently referred to the Constitution, an argument that Liberal Party member Adrian Lo ’15 said was not sufficiently examined by students.
“I don’t agree with [Miller], but I think he made a clear case,” Lo added.
Chris Pagliarella ’12, who spoke on behalf of the Party of the Left in opposition to Miller, said Miller “had a clear command of the facts and history of federal education policy, [but] I believe the impact of federal intervention is more complicated than he presented it.”
Miller was the Republican Party nominee in the 2010 U.S. Senate election in Alaska.