There I was, using 20 minutes out of my 56-minute period on Jan. 20 showing my mostly non-native English speaking students democracy in action, the inauguration of a new president, when I felt slapped in the face from Donald Trump who said, “An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”
As he seems to do with so many issues, Trump took the low road with a clichéd type of sentence that connects extremes—lots of money with nothing to show for it—that reflects his deprivation of knowledge about education.
It’s one thing when the public makes comments about schools without researching the facts. It is quite another when the man holding the highest office in the nation makes such a remark, then appoints a person to head the department of education who may actually know a little less than he does about schools.
Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos has never attended a public school, never taught school, and it is doubtful that her children attended one either.
DeVos is a billionaire, Forbes estimating her family’s wealth at $5 billion. And she and her husband, son of Amway’s co-founder, aren’t interested in making schools better, but in promoting school vouchers which takes money away from public schools and gives it to parents to spend on charter, private or religious schools.
In other words, taxpayer dollars end up funding private companies and religious organizations. That runs counter to the separation of church and state edict of this country.
Yet Trump is entrusting her with the highest position in education to do what’s best for America’s public schools. Does that make sense?
At her confirmation hearing, she exhibited, to borrow Trump’s language, a “deprivation of knowledge” about the federal law that funds special education which has been on the books for nearly three decades. She also could not explain the difference between the terms “proficiency” and “growth assessment,” a distinction even an average-skilled teacher can clarify.
DeVos also argued against gun-free school zones saying that some schools like those near Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming should be able to arm themselves especially “to protect from potential grizzlies.” Thus far, there have never been reports of grizzly bears attacking school children. Besides, most experts agree that bear repellent is more effective than firearms.
I have long felt it inherently wrong for people who lack teaching experience to hold powerful positions in education, telling teachers how to teach. Unfortunately, DeVos has company.
Since the Department of Education was created in 1979, there have been 10 secretaries.
Only Terrel Bell, Rod Paige and John King, Jr. were public school teachers before serving their post. That means 70 percent of the U.S. Secretaries of Education had no first-hand experience of public schools, the institution for which they were setting policy and implementing mandates.
Since Trump thrives on having the biggest, the best, the largest, he has succeeded with DeVos in appointing the most unqualified individual as education secretary.
In fact, she is the anti-education secretary.
As Stephen Henderson wrote in the Detroit Free Press, “She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance.”
Until her nomination, she was chairman of the American Federation for Children, a pro-school choice advocacy group whose website refers to DeVos as a “national education reform pioneer.”
In a speech given at the South by Southwest education conference in 2015, DeVos listed “government really sucks” as an “inconvenient truth” about public education. Nice language coming from the soon-to-be top “educator” in the land.
Some senators requested a second hearing on DeVos, but the request was turned down.
Her confirmation is expected to happen this Tuesday. If only that were fake news.