What Do We Do about DeVos?

The 51–50 confirmation of Betsy DeVos was another in a string of demoralizing events since Donald Trump’s inauguration. I don’t know why, but I felt especially disheartened as I watched the votes come in live on my phone. I guess that’s why they say, “The personal is political.”

As a public school teacher with nine years working in New York City public schools, DeVos’s confirmation put a heavy pit in my stomach. I teach at a Title I school where 96% of our kids qualify for free or reduced lunch, so I worry about federal funding. 95% of our students are kids of color, so I worry about the impact of an Education Secretary who seems uninterested in supporting the work of the Office for Civil Rights. I worry about trans kids, getting pushed back into the shadows. I worry, I worry, I worry.

But I won’t let my worry immobilize me. Here are three steps forward I’m thinking about.

1. Keep our kids in public schools
When DeVos was confirmed on February 7th, I saw a lot of tweets and Facebook posts from people ready to homeschool their kids. It’s an understandable sentiment. If you believe the government has given up on ensuring a quality public school system for your children, you need to do everything in your power to ensure they’ll still achieve their dreams.

But giving up on public education is exactly what DeVos and the Republican party want. They’ve already characterized it as a failure and colossal waste of money. The more families that disengage from public schooling, the more freedom they have to pursue an agenda based on free-market capitalism over equity.

Much of the inequity in our schools can be traced to the fact that many families (predominantly white ones) have already opted out of public schooling. 60% of the kids who attend private school in New York City are white, compared with 15% of the public school population. If more families with resources leave our public schools, they will leave the most marginalized students behind to survive DeVos’s assault on public schools alone. Now, more than ever, we need to opt in and invest in our public schools. Public school teachers need to speak up on behalf of our schools. Our jobs are grueling and often thankless, but now is the time to cheerlead on behalf of the good work we do on behalf of more than 56 million kids.

2. Know our rights

The United States’ public school system is a byzantine beast of federal, state, and local policies. This makes it difficult for average families, teachers, and students to advocate for their rights. But our lack of knowledge is how school systems continue to make decisions without input or consent of stakeholders. This can manifest in a myriad of ways including the curriculum we teach, the way we are evaluated, the way kids are disciplined, the services provided to students with special needs and English Language Learners.

In order to advocate for the equitable schools our kids deserve, all of us need to be vigilant. This begins by educating ourselves. Let’s work to understand the policies and decision-making bodies at the federal, state, and local level. Personally I want to start following the work of Community Education Councils and the Panel for Education Policy in New York City, and forge a relationship with my state assembly person and senator.
Know Your Rights
Introduction page for civil rights enforced by the Office for Civil Rightswww2.ed.gov

ELL Resources by State | Colorín Colorado
Colorín Colorado is a national multimedia project that offers a wealth of bilingual, research-based information…www.colorincolorado.org

3. Fight like hell

One of the challenges of the Trump administration is that it is threatening harm on so many fronts — the environment, immigration, LGBTQ equality, human rights, public education… We all need to support one another, recognize the intersections of our fights, and mobilize for the issues that matter to us most. Public school families and public school teachers in particular need to mobilize on behalf of public education.

We need to get mad, and stay mad, and use that anger to push for change. If you're looking for a "home base" to fight for education rights or other issues, use Movement Match to find an organization doing the work you care about.

This doesn’t always mean marching or protesting (although New Yorkers should show up for the People’s March for Education Justice on March 4th). We need to continue writing our state legislators and our representatives in Congress. We have also learned from the fight against the Muslim ban that the courts are an essential part of our fight for justice. Our teachers’ unions and organizations like the ACLU and the Children’s Defense Fund will be crucial in this fight.

We also know that building community is key. Educators need to connect with one another, and also with our students and families. We will need each other for every step of this fight.


Popular Posts