Our schools are being starved into failure in order to justify mass privatization.
—Timothy Meegan, Chicago Sun Times
A while back, I attended a meeting at the University of Memphis where many of us were against the Relay Graduate School of Education—a reform group that recruits students out of their chosen careers and supplies unqualified alternative teachers to charter schools. Those conducting the meeting, including the university president, were surprised to see such a large audience.
We had planned it that way. Parents, professors, students, and teachers organized and met several Sundays in a row to discuss strategies to keep this group from moving into the university to work side-by-side with the College of Education.
To keep us from speaking at this meeting, the administrators in favor of the program talked and talked and talked.
We finally had to interrupt in order to say why we were there. I am usually polite, and arguably this was not a polite thing to do. Yet, had we not interrupted we would not have been heard.
It is not always easy to protest politely. One wouldn’t be protesting if those in charge were doing what you believe to be right, or if they were listening.
That said, I disliked the barring of Betsy DeVos and the particular part of the protest involving the screaming of “shame” at her at the school she visited last Friday. It is shown and described here, although there is some dispute as to whether she was pushed and shoved.
The overall rally was organized by the Washington Teachers Union.
And I don’t blame the man yelling, or the people barring her from the school. Emotions are running high right now. I don’t like DeVos. If I’d been there, I might have yelled at her too!
But I think visuals are important and I don’t think this particular altercation looked good. Here were my concerns about this part of the protest at Jefferson Middle School against DeVos and why I don’t think it turned out well.
Making Her into Saint DeVos
Did it make DeVos look saintly, like a victim, garnering her sympathy from the public?
I am not saying she is a victim as some might misinterpret. I am asking if she looked like one. There is a difference.
I thought she looked stoic leaving that school and I worried it would garner her support—which it did!
There have been references to this incident since Friday and claims making DeVos look strong. DeVos herself referred to it in her first speech. She’s proud of it!
One of the most despicable reactions was the 1964 Norman Rockwell cartoon comparison of DeVos to Ruby Bridges.
This is what I feared. Taking the attention off DeVos’s ignorance, and making her look like Joan of Arc!
Should there be special rules to protesting on school grounds when children are around? This was a middle school. I don’t think children witnessed this particular altercation, and most of the protesting was peaceful, but what about the future?
Protesting can teach children valuable lessons.
But we also teach children not to bully. We can’t stand President Trump’s bullying. So, how do we show children that our protesting isn’t bullying?
How do we also teach them not to be afraid?
Maybe you will argue this particular incident wasn’t bullying. I am asking about how to proceed on the school grounds in the future.
Barring Betsy from Public Schools
Shouldn’t public schools always be open to people, even those with whom we disagree?
Could her attendance at schools be used more productively?
I think a better reaction to DeVos would be to invite her to the school or school district, greet her with signs, and ensure open attendance at such meetings by parents and educators.
Wouldn’t it be better to ask her tough questions? Make her show the American people what she doesn’t know. The confirmation hearings were most effective with this.
The Terrible Union Thug Message
Teachers have been called union thugs and other awful names.
As a teacher, these comments have always troubled me, especially since we teachers are some of the most compassionate people I know.
But good teachers also stand up for their students when they believe they are being hurt.
In Friday’s situation, despite the protestor’s passion, and the fact that it may have been a parent, aggressive protesting has the potential to engender more hatred towards teachers and the public schools they represent.
And blocking DeVos from entering the school was questionable. She got into the school anyway.
Some might think it makes teachers look tough and on point. Or, as one person pointed out to me, at this point, there is so much hatred of teachers, what does it matter?
In my opinion it does matter. I know Republicans who aren’t sure themselves about DeVos. I am all for winning them over.
I have protested in the past and I will not shrink away from protesting in the future. I see my writing as protesting.
I applaud those who rally at the local, state and national levels on the issues that matter most to their schools and to America.
A silver-lining to the DeVos appointment is that more people than ever before are paying attention to the possible loss of public education.
I also know that protesting isn’t always pretty. But I think we need to better plan how to be strategically tough without giving the other side the moral high ground that can be used against us.
In addition, as drowning professionals, trying to come up for air, it might help to grab onto each other to form a buoy that takes us to the top.
Organizing and pulling together in large numbers to peacefully protest can be very effective.
And that means still working together even if we don’t always agree on every point.
For the record, we stopped Relay Graduate School from working at the University of Memphis. But they are still in Memphis—just not at the university.