It is no secret that I supported Hillary Clinton for presidency. However, now that President Trump has been sworn in, we must lend our expertise to ensure that our great country continues to excel and provides opportunities to ALL Americans to live fulfilling lives. Nothing is more important than providing each and every American an opportunity for good education, regardless of their background, because education is the key to ensuring that everybody is able to live up to their potential.
I agree with the views of Diane Ravitch who wrote an open letter to Senator Lamar Alexander, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which is evaluating the qualifications of Betsy DeVos to be the Secretary of Education. It is clear from Ms. DeVos’s confirmation hearings that she is completely unqualified and unfit for the responsibility of running the Department of Education.
If President Trump really cares about providing quality education to Americans, and if he is having difficulty finding someone with the passion, enthusiasm and qualifications to lead this agency, he should consider me for the job. While I disagree with President Trump on most of his other stated policies, I feel that education is a bipartisan issue. There is too much at stake to let an unqualified person lead such an important post.
Here are my qualifications: I am a physics professor at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and the Director of the Discipline-based Science Education Research Center (dB-SERC). Over more than two decades, I have had the privilege of educating thousands of students at Pitt in introductory and advanced physics courses. I have also conducted summer professional development workshops for two decades to help K-12 science educators in Pittsburgh area and across the nation. The center that I am directing promotes and supports evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning in the nine natural sciences departments at Pitt.
But perhaps my most important qualification is that I am extremely passionate about providing opportunities to ALL students to get quality education. I strongly believe in public education and the transformative power of education in shaping the lives of students from ALL backgrounds and helping them grow as individuals so that they can discover their passion and use their power to transform the world.
Although my Ph.D. is in theoretical physics, for more than two decades, my research has focused on improving student learning of physics and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in general. I have 135 publications focused on student learning in physics and STEM and I have given more than 200 invited presentations and workshops on how to improve student learning in STEM for both K-12 educators and university faculty. For four years, I held the chair-line of the American Physical Society Forum on Education, a society comprised of more than 50,000 physicists.
I am also an excellent communicator and can communicate about the importance of education with all stakeholders in our society. I am passionate about reducing the barriers and making sure that everybody has the opportunity for quality education. When everybody has the opportunity to realize their talents and potential, not only will the work environment improve for everyone, we as a nation will be on the path to peace and prosperity and continue to be the envy of the world.
In addition to all of the other responsibilities, as Education Secretary, I would focus on helping us as a nation improve our attitudes about learning and education. My motto will be “Learning is Fun”.
This past holiday season, my son Ishan, who is now a college sophomore, said to me, “mom, you really shaped my life by changing my attitude about learning!” I stared at him, not understanding what he meant. He then reminded me that when he was in elementary school, everybody in his class was always complaining about how school is boring, homework is boring, learning English and math is boring. One day he came home and began to complain to me about having to do his homework (which was only about 5-10 minutes of work). “Homework is boring!” he said, echoing his peers. I sat down with him and told him, no, homework can be fun if you realize how much you stand to learn from it. While I didn’t remember the conversation, he did. From that day on, he ignored his peers and began to enjoy and excel in his studies. Numerous research studies confirm that the degree of student engagement depends upon student beliefs about learning. I would like to change attitudes towards learning at the national level. Those who encounter impediments in their education such as the Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai know and profess how much fun learning, textbooks and homework are, but it is time to give every child an opportunity and environment to internalize that learning is really fun!