Betsy DeVos, Education, Privatization — July 3, 2018 at 12:34 pm

Diane Ravitch, fennel, and Cory Booker


Let’s start with a confession: I have a crush on Diane Ravitch. (Note: my wife knows!) Sure, it’s a (mostly) academic crush, but a crush nonetheless. One of the real thrills of my professional life was attending a dinner in New York City a couple of years ago in honor of Dr. Ravitch’s contributions to public education. I had a chance to meet her, and talk with her a bit, and let her know how much I valued her ideas, and her writing, and her advocacy for children, teachers, and public schools.

I love that Dr. Ravitch had the intellectual courage to realize that many of her previously-held assumptions on education policy were misguided, and has now become–through the strength of her convictions and intellectual honesty–arguably the leading voice in support of public education active today. I don’t have a lot of heroes, but Dr. Ravitch is one of mine.

And while I love just about everything that Diane Ravitch writes or has to say, I was especially thrilled to see her recent post on New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

Because for me, Cory Booker is like fennel.

I want to like fennel, I really do. It’s crunchy, and sweet, and savory, and you can eat it raw or sauteed, in salads or as a veggie. The fennel seeds in Italian sausage are what gives it its distinctive, anise-y flavor, and I love Italian sausage, so I should love fennel, right?

But sadly, while fennel sounds like it should be wonderful, for me it ruins everything it touches. It tastes like wrong celery, and its strong licorice flavor overpowers all of its lovely qualities. I want to like fennel, but I just can’t.

Same with Cory Booker. I love the idea of Cory Booker. He’s the Democratic candidate right out of central casting. Booker is young, smart, likable, telegenic, energetic, charismatic, a terrific public speaker, with a great personal back story. I mean, the guy is practically Superman: he’s saved people from fires, blizzards, and hurricanes. He even saved a dog from freezing. He’s friends with Elmo. How can you not love him???

But Booker’s support of charter schools, and school choice, and vouchers, and privatization, and corporatization, and his willingness to scheme with Republicans like Chris Christie and sell out to unimaginably wealthy corporate overlords like Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, outweigh and taint, for me, any of his positive attributes.

I just can’t trust a guy who himself benefitted from great public schools, yet is eager to help them be ripped apart and tinkered with like some sort of gruesome medical experiment, leaving only an empty shell behind for thousands of kids just like him when he was younger.

Booker is an intuitive and savvy politician–he understood that even though he agrees with virtually all of the policy positions of Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump (and in many ways is responsible for laying the groundwork that made the implementation of these policies possible), it was in his best interests to vote against DeVos’ nomination by Trump as Secretary of Education. He knew, deep down in his political DNA, that the video of his forceful denunciation of DeVos at her hearing might serve as “inoculation” against his long public record of support for the pillars of the Trump-DeVos agenda, and persuade low information voters that he was one of the “good guys” when it came to protecting the schools that their children attended.

In many ways, Booker is the Democratic version of Lindsey Graham. Booker ping pongs between wildly divergent personas, flip-flopping between positions that are admirably progressive, and disturbingly regressive:

  • from his vociferous opposition of Jeff Sessions (for which he won great liberal acclaim), to his weasel-y decision to reject legislation that would have lowered prices for pharmaceuticals (he was one of only 13 Democrats to vote against the bill)
  • from his very public co-sponsoring with Kamala Harris and Tim Scott of legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime, to his somewhat less public support from corporate America (Booker received more in contributions from Wall Street in 2014 than any other politician–from either party)

This quote from Walter Bragman sums up how many feel about Booker these days: “This is classic Booker—stand out front on feel-good social issues, regardless of his past positions, and align with big money everywhere else.”

If Cory Booker has any chance of garnering any real substantive support from Democrats in 2020, then he’s going to need to decide who he actually is, and what he stands for:

  • He needs to renounce his membership on the Board of Directors for the Alliance for School Choice (an organization for which Betsy DeVos has served as chairperson) from 2004-2008, and speak out in support of strong public schools (like the ones he attended) in every neighborhood, and fight for adequate funding for those schools and policies that make sense for kids and families. Enough with the illusion that school choice is some sort of “silver bullet” with the promise of rescuing urban schools. School choice is a false choice.
  • He needs to stop working with DFER, aka “Democrats for Education Reform” (Pro Tip: not Democrats, and not for Education), and reach out to groups that actually support publication, like the Network for Public Education.
  • He needs to disavow his support for charters, choice, and corporatization of education, and educate himself on how strong public schools are integral to the future of our democracy–and understand that the problems created by competition and choice will not be solved by…competition and choice.

And I can’t think of a better “choice” for Booker’s “education on education” than Dr. Diane Ravitch:

  1. Booker is in New Jersey, Ravitch is in NYC;
  2. Booker is a conservative who is masquerading as a progressive, Ravitch was a conservative who transformed into a progressive;
  3. Booker has shown that he values corporate campaign contributions over sound education policy, Ravitch has shown that she values the contributions of public education to society over corporate gains.

Who knows? Maybe Booker and Ravitch could get together for a working lunch/education policy debriefing. The topics could include why school choice is not an issue of “freedom” or “options”, but a Trojan Horse for school privatization; why vouchers are unConstitutional; and, why charter schools are not serving the needs of minority students, but are rather an engine for segregation.

Just so long as there’s no fennel on the menu.