Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.
It’s Teacher Appreciation Week and a woman who never taught a day in her life was just booed during commencement at a well-known, highly regarded historically black university. She was booed by African American students who apparently had little say as to who would be speaking to them on their special day.
Don’t let CNN fool you. This wasn’t about freedom of speech or rejecting Betsy DeVos because she is a woman. It also isn’t about turning DeVos away from the schoolhouse door just because she chose to visit a school. This was about students not being given the right to choose their own speaker—someone who would have made this special day about them and not politics.
And there’s also some history here. Since school reformers took over, students are pushed and cajoled to attend college from preschool to their senior year. They are forced to follow a script and pass all the high-stakes tests that seem especially designed to trick them to fail. They are made to walk in straight lines and stare politely at the people who stand in front of them.
Many get strict teachers in classes where instruction is measured and students are clicked at as if they are animals performing in a circus. These schools put data ahead of all else while children with real needs go unattended.
Instead of being given great public elementary, middle, and high schools that lift them up as people—that help them to develop their uniqueness, and rise against prejudice and poverty that keeps them in their place, public education has been de-funded for years—made into charity work by groups like Teach for America and Relay Graduate School of Education.
The rich get fancy schools and African Americans get charters like Success Academy, where Eva Moskowitz brow-beats students to behave, while profiting well. Republicans and many Democrats like this kind of profit-making schooling. It makes them feel all good inside like they are crusaders for children. It’s what drives them to break up real community schools where people are treated with dignity and have some say over the education of their children.
At Bethune-Cookman a great historically black university, students who have worked hard, who gained acceptance to their university, arrive at their graduation as success stories. They’ve managed to do all the right things, pass all the tests.
And who shows up to speak to them? Betsy DeVos, a woman who hypes their university as a “choice” school because she is all about that.
She is rich. And we all realize what Senator Bernie Sanders said during her confirmation hearing is true. She would not be in this job if her family had not donated $200m to the Republican Party.
According to Barrett Holmes Pitner of The Daily Beast, on the day before her speech over 50,000 people signed a petition requesting removal of DeVos as commencement speaker. It was ignored.
On a day designated for students—a day to honor their achievements—they have to listen to a woman of privilege tell them how she understands their struggle. They cannot even end their college journey without hackneyed political browbeating.
Perhaps if DeVos had the right ideas about schooling, her appearances would be more palatable. Perhaps if she really wanted to help public schools work for all children, but that’s not what she is about.
Betsy DeVos is the topping on the cake after Duncan and Spellings. She is the final straw, meant to end public education altogether—to put in place a system that rings true to her religiosity—a separate system of the haves and have nots. She is welcoming back the time before Brown v. the Board of Education. But my guess is she saw herself as Joan of Arc on that stage Wednesday.
This is not about God or the students. Privatization has never been about the welfare of the student. And it is not about religion either, though they might make you think it is. It is about money and it is about race. School privatization has always been about that.
Betsy DeVos should resign. But she was placed in this position by one vote if we can believe that. The problem is many Republicans and Democrats sold out on public schools a long time ago. The Washington mindset really is Betsy DeVos. I know it and you know it.
So boo away students. Remember this day as you journey forth. Maybe you can make America really great again. The rest of us are betting on that.