Betsy DeVos, Detroit Public Schools, Donald Trump, Education, Michigan — January 21, 2017 at 10:07 pm

Flush this, Mr. President


An out of service toilet in a Detroit school.

In his inaugural speech, the newly installed President of the United States made the following comment:

“An education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge”.

Incensed, I immediately wanted to share my thoughts about these mean-spirited, belittling words–but I couldn’t. Because I was in Grand Rapids at the Michigan Music Conference (MMC), an annual professional development conference for our state’s 2500 music teachers.

I look forward to the MMC each year as a place to reconnect with my former students and colleagues across the state, to learn some new strategies that I hope will help me to become a better teacher, and to recharge and reinvigorate my passion for music teaching.

I’m never disappointed. And I always leave in awe of the dedication and talents of these committed professionals.

But in the aftermath of the President’s comments, my admiration for these teachers is even greater this year.


  • One young teacher shared with me that although her district’s contract allows for 7 sick days per year, her administrator told her that after her 3rd recorded absence her teacher evaluation rating would be lowered. When I asked her what she was going to do, she said she decided to come to the conference anyway, because her “students deserved the very best teacher possible.”
  • Several teachers told me that their schools’ budgets had been cut–again–and that all of the expenses associated with attending the conference would be coming out of their own pockets. And going to this event isn’t cheap: $125 for registration, $499 for 2 nights of lodging at one of the “conference hotels,” and another $200 in meals–that’s almost $1000 to attend 2 days of intense, demanding, optional professional development sessions, workshops, and concerts. And some teachers are expected not only to find their own substitutes, but to pay them as well–adding another $75-100 to the tab. (When I tell my non-educator friends what teachers go through to get themselves to one of these conferences they are incredulous. They also think we are nuts.)
  • Other teachers said:

  • “I’ve used my own time to apply for grants, helped with PTO fundraising, asked for supplies from parents, and spent my own money every year so I can have what I need for my students. Silly me.”
  • “If it’s so flush with cash why do I have to buy printer paper and ink to print from my own home spending 1000 bucks a year out of pocket just to get practica to my students?”
  • Mushrooms growing in a Detroit classroom.
  • “Flush with cash?!?!…we can’t even get drinking fountains replaced!”
  • A missing water fountain in a Detroit school.
  • “Well darn. I need to look through the percussion cabinet (Jimmy Hoffa is probably in there too with our missing triangle) and find some of that flush of cash my classroom is rolling in. To think, I’ve been buying reeds and pencils out of pocket all this time. Thanks Donald!”
  • Even in spite of daily, brutal attacks on our profession from the education reform crowd (led by presumptive Secretary of Education and Grand Rapids area native Betsy DeVos), the media, and now, the President of the United States, the teachers I talked to at the MMC were universally positive, enthusiastic, and excited to be at the conference. They were up early to be at 7am breakfast meetings, packed giant ballrooms to learn new songs and activities from guest clinicians, and shared their knowledge with colleagues in conducting symposia, research meetings, and teaching workshops. Although they were uncommonly well-informed and aware of the political changes swirling around their country and their profession, these teachers chose instead to focus their energies on improving their teaching abilities and knowledge–all in service of helping their students find their voices as musicians and persons.

    “An education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge”.

    This is what our new President thinks of our public schools and teachers…

    …that teachers and schools are rolling in dough…

    …that school teachers work in spacious facilities, and want for nothing…

    …yet we are so bad at our jobs that our students know literally “nothing”.

    Because I’m trying to remain professional, I’ll refrain from saying the words I want to say.

    What I will say is that these comments are ignorant, hurtful, and divisive. The President had a chance to use his inaugural address to unite a fractured nation and appeal to our better selves, but chose to insult and disparage a profession of which he knows nothing.

    It’s not our education system that is flush with cash, yet knows nothing.

    It’s you, Mr. President.