Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be an article about politics. (Believe me, at this point I’m as weary of the political debates as anyone.) But I’ll tell you what this article is about: Our children, and the need to do right by them.
Unless you’ve been living in a bubble the past few days (and given the current state of affairs, who could blame you if you are), you probably heard that Betsy DeVos’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education was held Tuesday. But on the off-chance that you haven’t heard about the woman who will be tasked with running our country’s public education system, let’s start with her resume:
- DeVos is a proponent of charter schools, vouchers, and the privatization of education.
- She’s a Republican donor who, along with her family, has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the political party over the years.
- She never once attended a public school, nor have her children.
- She has no personal experience with federal student loans whatsoever.
- She has never been a teacher or a school administrator.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
DeVos’s resume alone should be cause for concern to those who care about education — which should be all of us. But her responses during the confirmation hearing yesterday were nothing short of alarming.
First, Ms. DeVos refused to agree that guns don’t belong in schools, citing the potential threat of grizzly bears. Yep, you read that right — grizzly bears. She literally said this. (Honestly, folks, you can’t make this up.)
Even more horrifying is the fact that she didn’t seem to understand that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law that applies to all schools that receive public funds in order to provide free and appropriate education to all students with disabilities.
You can watch the exchange she had with Senator Tim Kaine over this for yourself (it gets going around the 3:30 mark):
In saying that states should reserve the right to decide whether or not to enforce IDEA, DeVos seemed to not only lack the understanding that IDEA is a federal law, but also the empathy and compassion for anyone with a disability.
She also refused to agree that charter schools should be held to the same level of accountability as public schools even if they receive public funds, and was utterly dumbfounded when asked about issues regarding the use of standardized tests to measure student proficiency and growth.
No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it seems impossible to listen to DeVos’s responses and read about her platform without weeping for our children. I personally am crying hot angry tears today — and not just for my own children, but for yours as well. Because regardless of your beliefs (political or otherwise), these are children we are talking about and they all deserve a fair chance in life. And so much of that starts with their education.
Public education is not a political issue; it’s a moral issue. It isn’t a question of Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal; it’s a question of right and wrong. It’s about the wellbeing of our children, fairness, and doing the right thing.
Look, we all want what’s best for our children, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of the right of other children to a quality education. All children have the right to quality education. PERIOD.
Buzz words like “school choice” sound great in theory, but the bottom line is that many families don’t have a choice when the system is complex and designed to help those families with the resources to better navigate its complexities.
Parents choose to send their children to private schools for a wide range of reasons — many of them wholesome and well-intentioned reasons — but the simple fact is that the privatization of education is breaking an already fractured system even more. While there are certainly some positive charter school models, in many cases, charter schools and vouchers have myriad unintended negative consequences.
What’s more, in some states, public schools receive funding based on enrollment, which means that every student who attends a private school results in a loss of public funds for public schools. While this might not be a huge problem in affluent and upper middle class suburban neighborhoods where property tax dollars can fund the shortfall, in lower income and inner city schools this is disastrous.
There is so much upon which the nation is divided right now, and reasonable people can disagree about things like health insurance, military spending, and immigration. But if there is one thing we can all agree on, surely it is that all children — regardless of their parents’ financial situation — deserve every chance for a happy and successful life that we can give them.
Regardless of whether you choose to send your kids to public, private or charter school, we all have a stake in this and it’s time to get involved. If you’re feeling helpless about all this, don’t. Instead, act. Call your representatives. Donate money to public schools in struggling districts. Advocate for increased government funding, particularly in struggling school districts.
Children are among the most innocent and vulnerable, but they are also our future. It’s in everyone’s best interest to take care of all children, not just the ones who were lucky enough to be born to parents who can afford private school or live in a neighborhood with quality public schools. After all, there but for the grace of God go we all.
So no, this isn’t about politics anymore; it’s about basic human decency and fairness — two things I think we can all agree we could use a little more of these days.