No matter what the education issue is that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is addressing and no matter where the venue, she manages to show how ill-prepared she is to lead the U.S. Department of Education with her vacuous and insensitive remarks. She has shown herself to be completely tone-deaf about what is instructionally appropriate or what is best for children. Through all of her malaprops and her sense of entitlement, she has managed to do what pro-public education folks like me have been unable to do – she has managed to get people to pay attention.
As a founding board member of the Network for Public Education, I have watched as our NPE membership has grown from 22,000 before the DeVos appointment to 350,000 since she was nominated. For those of us who have been calling attention to the corporate reform assault on public schools, this is welcome news. I can only hope that this spontaneous growth is due to more people waking up to the possibility of what is at stake if public education, the bedrock of our society, is further decimated by those who wish to “reform” it.
Education should be about kids and about learning, and it never should have become a political football, and yet politicians and pundits of all political stripes have done precious little to help support policies that will create equity among schools. In fact, in recent years state legislatures have worked to underfund, to overregulate and to privatize public schools. Those of us across Indiana and across the country who have been fighting to save public education have done nearly everything we can think of to bring the plight of education to the attention of our fellow citizens. No matter how many forums and conferences we have hosted, no matter how many opeds we have written, no matter how many times we have testified at our statehouses, we have found it difficult to engage those who are not closely involved in education.
Arne Duncan's tenure over the Department of Education ushered us into the Race to the Top era of test and punish. While Race to the Top has been an unmitigated failure, at least Duncan had some marginal qualifications. DeVos is unqualified to hold any Cabinet position, let alone one which will affect all of the nation's children. Now that she has made a gaffe-filled entrance into the political landscape, more people seem to be aware of her lack of qualifications. While taking notice is a start, it is up to all of us to actively stand in support of our public schools, our kids, our teachers and our communities.
Will Betsy DeVos be the lightning rod who might awaken us to the potential destruction of public education? I have no idea whether this focus on DeVos will be more than another example of our short attention span with ever-breaking news stories. My hope is that people are finally getting fed up with this anti-public education push and will choose to fight back to save our schools for the nation's most precious resource, our children.
Phyllis Bush, a retired English teacher and Fort Wayne resident, is treasurer of the Network for Public Education.