There’s a certain perverse pride public educators should feel due to the fact that Betsy DeVos, the nominee for Secretary of Education, is, of all the Trump cabinet picks, the object of the most phone calls and other communications objecting to her confirmation. She’s also the only nominee that some Republican Senators will oppose. At last, education is at the top of the priority list. Feel better?
The corporatization of public education has been gaining strength since A Nation at Risk was released in 1983, warning the United States that students were not learning the content and skills they needed in order for our country to compete in the economic and political world. Despite efforts to reform the curriculum, incorporate technology, and change teaching practice to include cooperative learning, Back to Basics learning and the upside down classroom, schools are being shortchanged in state budgets and students are being tested over the course of multiple days which could be used for more quality instruction.
The solution? Betsy DeVos.
Yes, what this country needs is a Secretary of Education with no public school…anything. Not attendance, not school board, not having children attend public school, and not any knowledge of laws that govern the public schools. She is the perfect manifestation of the ideology that puts money, competition and strict, top-down management above all else. She represents the conservative view that, really, anyone can be in education because, well, teaching is easy and the schedule is cake and, honestly, if you were so smart, you would have gone into a field where you were respected and could earn piles of cash.
But just public school teachers. Conservative ideology says that private school teachers are just fine because they understand the private nature of capitalism and that skimming the best students off the top is the American way. And Charter School teachers? You are even better because you are directly challenging the public schools and those nasty unions in your districts. Cynical? You bet. True? No.
But that seems to be where Betsy Devos is on the educational continuum. She is highly unqualified, regal in her detachment from all things public school, blithely ignorant of what she doesn’t know, and dismissive of what really works in education. She is also a reflection of the president’s (shudder) own uncaring attitude towards anything that requires thoughtfulness and academic rigor. What do you expect from someone who doesn’t read books?
The silver lining is that conservatives don’t want a federal presence in education, preferring to keep the major issues at the state level. The problem is that DeVos will champion vouchers and the growth of non-public schools. How much of an impact she’ll have will depend on how much power she can carve out of the department.
The responsibility of all public school educators is to oppose her at every turn and to do what’s right for our students.