Right now it looks like the Democrats in the senate are finally digging in their heels at one of the nominations – the rabid Christian fundamentalist Betsy DeVos who has dedicated her inherited fortune to dismantling public education.
DeVos is about as far out a nominee as you could get. Bring in a climate denier for the Department of Energy, a Wall Street banker to oversee banking regulations, an opponent of net neutrality to head up the Federal Communications Commission. But DeVos may be the nuttiest. Oh my goodness.
The problem with the Democratic opposition, however, is that she is not so far from Arne Duncan and John King, Obama’s secretaries of education. They were committed free-market reformers, championed for-profit charter schools, turned federal funding into competitive grants, sought to tie teacher pay to student scores on standardized tests, and celebrated the breaking of teacher unions and tenure (which is really just due process).
How are they different from DeVos? Well, they did not argue for creationism in place of science in the curriculum. They were not as high on vouchers as DeVos. But they were in the same camp – pushing for education to be privatized, marketized, and reduced to mindless training.
It reminds me of the brilliant strategy of the Democrats in Syria. They sought to arm the resistance against the Assad government. And then the fanatics, from Al Quaeda to ISIL, jumped on the anti-Assad bandwagon. Suddenly the US was in alliance with the crazy fundamentalists. So to stop ISIL, they made a tacit alliance with Iran and agreed to Russian intervention. Suddenly the US was in a ridiculous bind, trying to thread the needle to support the “right rebels” and refusing to accept responsibility for the horrendous humanitarian disaster that resulted.
So it is with education. The Democrats sought to arm the free market charter entrepreneurs, to support the union-busting measures in state after state. When along comes DeVos, who Mitchell Robinson from Michigan State University rightly calls a “religious and school privatization/choice/voucher zealot,” it is only an extension of the course the Dems have already laid out.
Our job, as teachers, union members, community activists, and parents is to take back public schools – from the zealots and also from the three piece suit “experts” who have had public education in the crosshairs for decades. Don’t worry friends. When the smoke clears and the trash is taken out, when there are hearings and tribunals to identify who was complicit with the Trump madness, we will rebuild a better, more powerful, more meaningful education experience for our kids.