I was honored to be giving a talk on education policy at Wayne State University today (thanks for the invite, Drs. Wendy Matthews and Abby Butler!) during the Senate vote on Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education. While it was painfully ironic for all of us when Ms. DeVos was approved–by the closest vote for a Cabinet appointee in our nation’s history; so close, it required a tie breaker from VP Mike Pence–I was very glad to be surrounded in that moment by passionate, enthusiastic, optimistic young future music educators and colleagues. I was buoyed by the positive attitude in the room, and the students’ obvious excitement about joining the education profession–even during a time of great uncertainty.
As we reached the end of the session, a couple of students stayed behind to chat, and the same question came up again and again: “What do we do now?”
While I certainly understand the feelings of frustration, sadness, and even anger among my colleagues in the schools at the prospect of such a spectacularly unqualified individual becoming the Secretary of Education for our nation, I actually see today’s vote as a positive event. To anyone that has been paying attention during this circus of a confirmation proceeding, today’s vote was a galvanizing moment. We now all know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Senate Republicans have “sold out” to special interests and power brokers, and are not in the least bit concerned with whether a nominee is qualified for a Cabinet position. The hypocrisy, dishonesty, and craven political calculus on display today is proof positive that Mr. Trump’s Cabinet is a sham–a pathetic collection of billionaires and failed politicians who have been rewarded for their blind loyalty and monetary contributions to Trump’s campaign with gifts of patronage. This isn’t a Cabinet–it’s a fool’s court.
To my students, colleagues in the schools, and concerned parents: This is not the time to give up. It’s time to redouble our efforts, and to double down on our resistance to ideas that we know are wrong, misguided, and educationally unsound. More than ever before, the public has seen how high the stakes truly are, and are horrified that a person as shockingly unprepared as Ms. DeVos has been granted a position of power and authority for their children’s education. Persons that have never in their lives paid attention to Senate confirmation hearings are now wondering how a person who never attended public schools, didn’t send her own children to public schools, and has never taught, has now been given the responsibility and power to establish education policy for the nation’s 50 million public school students and 3.5 million public school teachers.
The thing to remember here is that Ms. DeVos has been tremendously weakened by her bumbling, embarrassing confirmation hearing performance.
- She demonstrated that she doesn’t care about a public education system that requires equitable opportunities and outcomes for all learners.
- She’s OK with special needs kids signing off on their right to the services they need and deserve in exchange for private school vouchers.
- She sees no problems with allowing guns in schools, and really seemed to believe that grizzly bears were a major problem in terms of school safety.
- She doesn’t know what the IDEA is, or that its enforcement would be her responsibility.
- She’s “confused” about the difference between growth and proficiency.
- She doesn’t think that schools that receive federal tax support should be held to federal accountability requirements.
- And she seems to have missed that day in civics class when we all learned about the separation of church and state.
Betsy DeVos is like the boxer who has won their match by a split decision, on a questionable technicality. She “won,” but hardly exits the ring like a winner. She is limping into office, with zero credibility, and a complete lack of knowledge or background. She’s been exposed as stunningly unqualified, ignorant, and arrogant. The teachers that serve in our public schools will view her motives with suspicion, and her policies with apprehension.
So, what do we do now? We seize the moment to come together as a profession.
We teach even better–we remember that the kid who acts out needs our kindness and attention the most, and that every one of our students is someone’s best work, and brightest promise.
We strive to be better colleagues–we vow to be more open, more helpful, more collaborative, and more trusting.
We demand to be treated like the professionals we are–we reject unproven methods, insist on better working conditions, and work for more ethical practices in all aspects of our professional lives.
We respond to intolerance with greater compassion, to ignorance with greater patience, and to attacks with greater solidarity.
This is not the time to give up.
It’s time to do what we do best: Teach.