On Feb 7, 2015, President Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate. With Vice President Mike Pence casting an historic tie-breaking vote, the final tally of 51 to 50 ended an unusually contentious fight over this cabinet post. The largely partisan vote stemmed from Ms. DeVos’ long history of advocacy for charter schools and school vouchers in her home state of Michigan, a pair of programs heavily opposed by the Teachers Unions which are universally supported by the Democratic Party.
During confirmation hearings, Ms. DeVos reiterated support of charter schools with the statement “I am a firm believer that parents should be empowered to choose the learning environment that’s best for each of their individual children.” The following day Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, declared “It’s clear to us: she is an anti-public education activist more interested in funneling public monies into private schools and for-profit charter schools. She doesn’t value the diversity we celebrate and hold dear here in California.” And upon her confirmation, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said “DeVos shows an antipathy for public schools; a full-throttled embrace of private, for-profit alternatives and a lack of basic understanding of what children need to succeed in school.”
As the participants in the schools wars continue to engage in combat, let me interject a few comments to which both sides would object. I contend neither the public school nor the charter school has a monopoly on educational expertise. In both settings bright students who strive to learn will do well, while those that are dull or who fail to apply themselves will do poorly. Of particular concern to me is the dogmatic belief that how the school hierarchy functions will dictate the scholastic outcome. The implication is clear – and faulty – that learning is something done to the student, not by the student. And finally, I’m appalled that none of the combatants appear to phrase their arguments or address their comments to the very persons on whom education is presumably directed: the students. These appear to be the forgotten ciphers in this never ending battle, who will perform as directed, but enjoy no say in how they’ll be required to learn.
A final thought: I’m convinced the intent of all parties in this fracas is funneling public monies into schools they control. It’s nothing more than a fight over the loot.