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Betsy DeVos: Inexperienced and Unqualified – and Anti-Public Schools

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, has not one day of experience as a professional educator and has never held public office. Not a good sign.

She and her children all attended private schools due to abundant family resources. She therefore wants to give poor children the same opportunities. The same options. Or so she says.

Break out the violins.

In this teacher’s humble opinion, the best thing for most children – almost all, I would say – is a good neighborhood public school. One they can walk to, if possible. A school where children have friends that live nearby (remember when kids didn’t require a two week-in-advance play-date appointment?).

Parents need their kids’ schools to serve as a hub for the community. To be places where they can meet neighbors at a rummage sale or pot-luck supper. A place to build friendships. And where they can pick up a sick son or daughter in a matter of minutes, without traveling across town.

If one of her privatized schools doesn’t work out for a family, I heard DeVos say in an interview, they can select another one.

Is she serious?

Changing schools is traumatic. The parent – usually a mother who’s already got her hands full – needs to spend time doing research before school-hopping. But privatized schools are not accountable to anyone except themselves. If a parent has a problem with anything, tough nuggies.

Teachers’ unions are up in arms about Trump’s pick for the nation’s top educator. Why would a president pick someone who wants to destroy the most important vehicle for elevating the masses? I think the answer is plain enough. 

For corporate giants who require cheap labor, the masses need to stay where they are!

But teachers deserve to be paid what they’re worth and have sufficient benefits. They want schools that are regulated and accountable for students’ progress. Schools that won’t close down, tossing both teachers and students out on their ears when the profiteers call it quits – which has happened in DeVos’s state of Michigan, where a high percentage of schools have been privatized, due to her influence.

She makes it no secret. DeVos’s real aim is pushing for-profit schools, which she couches in beneficent terms like “school choice,” “charter schools,” and “vouchers,” making it seem as though poor families deserve what families like hers can have in a heartbeat.

But I for one am tired of hearing conservative Christians promote ministries-for-profit while posturing as saviors of mankind. Next thing we know Chick-Fil-A, the Christian Conservatives’  favorite fast-food restaurant, will be running the country’s school lunch program.

I can’t help but question: Is it really the gospel of Jesus Christ that’s on her family’s mind, or the funneling of tax payer money into corporate hands? To me, for-profit education reeks of a philosophy steeped in social Darwinism. (A nasty old bugger!) This 19th century albatross perpetuated the idea that the highest social and economic classes should take advantage of the less fortunate due to their “evolutionary” flaws. It promoted a racist agenda that encouraged the cream to stay at top of the social pyramid – while the masses floundered at the bottom.

In the past, however, public education, like the military, has been the source of upward mobility, moving people into the middle class like a great equalizer. But it has not been doing a good job of it in the past quarter-century. The effects of globalization required that our children not have quite so much general knowledge, and much maneuvering has happened on the pedagogical front, pushed into schools by non-profit-funded educational gurus like the late education-reformer Ted Sizer. His “less is more” mumbo-jumbo required massive teacher reeducation on the nine principles of his “Coalition of Essential Schools,” which became widespread in the 1990s.

It was then that I learned about the new paradigm. No longer was the teacher the teacher. She was a facilitator, and the student was to be in charge of his own learning. This changed everything. Yet no teacher or administrator offered me this information. I had to dig it out.

In my view, education reformers threw the baby out with the bathwater. Under Bill Clinton and Goals 2000 there were many reform models. Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Pew, among other foundations, provided the grant money to fund the change-agents.

But here’s the thing: Children need to know what they don’t know. Otherwise they end up an arrogant lot with inappropriate levels of self-esteem and weak basic skills. In some schools, a third-grader may know what a simile is, but see no reason to copy a word correctly when it’s placed in front of him. A class may be taught about primary sources, but be clueless about capitalization and punctuation.  A cut-and-color worksheet featuring gingerbread houses and gingerbread men is presented to kindergarten children who have never tasted gingerbread. Is nobody minding the store?

When children in elementary school are given developmentally and cognitively accelerated learning concepts, they are pushed too quickly into abstract thinking before they are ready for it. Some middle school children are so lacking in fine motor skills they cannot hold a pencil properly. Why is this? Textbooks are no longer viewed as essential learning tools, which only adds to the confusion. I wince when I think how little factual knowledge students will have when they graduate.

But DeVos’s pay-for-play leadership is not the answer to these problems. What we need is an understanding that children cannot learn when they are under stress at home. Parents and other primary caregivers must gain an understanding of how abundant positive interactions build brain circuitry and bonding, for healthy cognitive and emotional development. Parents and teachers must also understand effects of childhood developmental trauma that stems from a lack of such interactions, leading to neglect, and how such neglect negatively impacts brain development. That’s just for starters. Then we need greater empathy in the classroom.  More eye-contact and compassion. And the belief that every child should develop to his or her highest potential. But teachers must also understand their role in polishing these diamonds-in-the-rough. A diamond cannot polish itself.

My term for it is sweet striving. It’s when a child is encouraged to make something beautiful and not give up, but put in their best effort.

DeVos’s realm is wealthy indeed. And vast. And it is hard to stop anyone whose money wields such power.

Quoted in this Jan. 11, 2017, Cosmopolitan article, DeVos said, “I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.

“We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.

“People like us must surely be stopped.”

I’m not sure what she’s implying in her last statement. Except that it’s a projection of what she believes people would like to do to her and those who support her. And she would be right. FFG

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