Betsy DeVos is Right about the Bears: One Educator’s Harrowing Experience

I teach online from my home in Louisiana for the groundbreaking MAT@USC program, which prepares highly qualified individuals to devote their lives to teaching young people around the world.  I have students spread across the United States and across the globe.  Because I teach online, my classroom extends into the virtual realm, and even into students’ homes.  As students and faculty learn to navigate this new educational medium, I’ve seen the odd and the occasionally hilarious. A student attending class with a parrot on her shoulder.  A student’s husband inadvertently walking through the background in his boxers.  A paused camera accompanied by a toilet flush.  Needless to say, I learned early on in this online teaching endeavor to establish norms related to what should and shouldn’t occur during class time.

A few years ago, I was teaching a class, and my students were broken up into small groups.  They were collaborating on a response to a case study, and I was virtually jumping from room to room to observe and provide feedback.  Things were going relatively smoothly until I heard one student yell “A bear!” My ears perked up at this, of course, which is not something normally yelled during my class sessions.  The student disappeared off camera for a moment, and then returned.  She informed us that there was a bear in her backyard trying to get at one of her fruit trees, and her dogs were out back.  I enthusiastically gave her permission to go save her dogs, and she headed out back to bring them inside and presumably shoo away the bear.  She returned to class a few minutes later, a little breathless, but with the dogs safely indoors.  She lived somewhere in that great expanse in the center of our country where bears are commonplace; apparently her home backed up to a nature preserve, and her fruit trees were just too tempting for her ursine neighbors.

So clearly, Betsy DeVos is right about one thing.  Bears can and do disrupt the educational experience.

Unfortunately, there ends the list of things Betsy Devos is right about.

Here’s where I stop trying to amuse you and start trying to get you fired up.  Betsy DeVos is an unqualified, uninformed billionaire, who doesn’t believe in public schools, didn’t go to a public school, and doesn’t send her kids to public schools (though only the first of those is an absolute prerequisite for this position).  She failed her confirmation hearing, in which she wouldn’t commit to protecting the federally guaranteed rights of students with disabilities, she couldn’t stand strong against guns in schools,  and she couldn’t answer simple questions about educational policy and practice.  She clearly purchased herself a spot in Trump’s cabinet by donating ridiculous amounts of money to both his campaign and to the politicians voting in her favor.

I spend my life teaching preservice teachers.  My students read hundreds and hundreds of pages of research on the science of learning and on proper pedagogy.  They write lesson plan after lesson plan, and they practice their craft in real classrooms.  They take challenging certification tests and prepare portfolios of their work to prove that they are qualified to stand in front of, and make educational decisions, for just one classroom.  And I mostly teach a first term, foundational course on learning theory; one of the first things my students learn is the difference between growth and proficiency.  They even go one step further and have to be able to explain and begin to apply criterion referenced, norm referenced, and ipsative assessment in their second week of class. Any one of my students is more qualified to be Secretary of Education than Betsy DeVos.  The fact that someone with so little educational understanding and experience is poised to lead our Department of Education is a travesty.

Trump himself showed his true opinion of our educational system during his inauguration speech, when he called it “An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” With that simple statement, he showed us exactly why he nominated Betsy DeVos.  They are both completely out of touch with what is actually happening in our public schools, and believe that those without elite private school backgrounds are ignorant and uneducated.

Can our public school system improve?  Absolutely.  There are many faults in the system, and many students are not being properly served.  But to propose that the coffers of local public schools are overflowing and that students are deprived of ALL knowledge is a blatant falsehood.  Our educational system is full of bright young people with reams of knowledge and highly qualified and passionate educators devoted to helping young people learn, even as they are under-paid and under-appreciated.

What these students and teachers need is not a nation of false-choice school systems like Betsy DeVos supported in Michigan, where top schools often either do not participate in the choice program or students who depend on public transportation live too far from these schools to benefit.  They don’t need unregulated charter school expansion.  They don’t need for-profit charters.

What they do need is freedom to pursue innovative educational approaches within the public school system, freed from the incessant and ineffective standardized testing.  They need well regulated, nonprofit charters.  They need money for better teacher salaries and better school facilities and resources.  They need safe campuses and equitable treatment.  They need a staunch supporter of public education as Secretary of Education, not an unqualified billionaire like Betsy DeVos.

Now, go look up your Senator’s contact information and give them a call.  Let them know how you feel about Betsy DeVos.  You could say something like this, if you so choose:

“Hi, my name is ____________. I am a constituent of [insert name of Senator here].  I am calling in regard to the potential confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.  She is completely unqualified for this position and has only been selected because of the massive amount of money she and her family have donated to politicians.  Our public schools deserve better than this.  I’m calling to see if [insert name of Senator here] plans to stand against the idea that an unqualified billionaire can purchase a cabinet seat and vote AGAINST confirming Betsy DeVos?”

The Dems are all against her, and 2 Republicans have jumped ship.  We just need one more Republican Senator to stand up for public education, and stand against a billionaire donor purchasing a cabinet seat she is wholly unqualified to fill.

photo credit: vpickering Protest of Betsy DeVos via photopin (license)