Bigger than Sputnik: How Betsy Devos’ Nomination for Secretary of Education just Saved Public Education
Christian Z. Goering, Associate Professor of English Education, University of Arkansas
Most people are familiar with American educational history to the point to remember that the Soviet launch of a satellite into space in 1957 before the launch of a US satellite struck great fear that our country was falling behind and thus needed to double down on our efforts, especially those in education. This little blinking light meant the Cold War could be lost and the years after Sputnik were marked by the National Defense of Education Act in 1958 and an onslaught of programs designed to improve teaching and learning and strengthen our system of public schools. A friend who began teaching in 1963 often shared with me the different ways in which he benefited from this urgency—paid summer workshops for teachers, support for graduate degrees, and just plain old-fashioned support for education.
I’m going to be bold in predicting that Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education will be remembered as a watershed moment in educational history, the point in time where public education was saved. I believe Betsy is bigger than Sputnik.
Before you rush to think otherwise, I don’t believe Ms. DeVos has any business leading the US Department of Education. Her religious adherence to the school choice movement, one I believe is designed to tear down (not improve) our system of public education, is single-handedly a disqualifier. The comment about bears and the fact that she has zero experience ever working inside a school of any kind seems like enough further evidence that she has no business setting foot in the Department of Education, much less leading it. When then President-Elect Trump passed on Michelle Rhee—the former Chancellor of the Washington D. C. schools and arguably the most hated educator in America—to instead nominate billionaire DeVos, it seemed apparent that only the most non-logical and most offensive choice was the goal. In this case, President Trump went too far.
While I’d love to tell you that Betsy DeVos is the worst nominee for President Trump’s cabinet and to place all of the blame for this nomination squarely on the President’s shoulders, she’s not and that wouldn’t be fair. Rather, a hefty amount of blame must be placed at the feet of the Democratic party, which over the past twenty years has increasingly drifted towards the school choice movement, interestingly one of the few areas of agreement in our divided country. Following eight treacherous years for public education under President George W. Bush and No Child Left Behind, Barack Obama gave legitimacy and real teeth to the failed policies of his predecessors. The name and shame, test-punish-rinse-repeat cycle did nothing for our education system. What’s worse is that President Obama provided funding for the biggest expansion of school choice in our nation’s history. His picks for Secretary of Education were both unqualified and considered by teachers to be outright attacks on our sensibility of what education actually is and isn’t. So, a hearty “thanks Obama” is in order.
How’s Betsy bigger than Sputnik, one might ask? She has singlehandedly united the Democratic party against the destructive school choice movement, one they almost universally supported previously and she has unified teachers and public education groups for a cause like I’ve never seen. She’s such a bad nominee for this position that she’s taken the place of a satellite blinking across the night sky. As a teacher, I’m looking towards Satellite DeVos with renewed hope and a sort of religious reverence.
Even school choice magnate Eli Broad came out to denounce her nomination. This guy drinks school choice Kool-Aid out of a platinum cup for breakfast and he’s against her? Anyone interested in perpetrating the school choice ruse is likely screaming from their rooftops or smashing their heads against a wall. BB (Before Betsy) everything was sailing through a dark night sky towards unprecedented spreading of vouchers and charters and the opportunity for the greedy to make money off of our nation’s most vulnerable—our school children. The Democrats were shamefully sitting at the same gilded table as the Republicans, no difference in their vision for education. AB (After Betsy), I project a future where public educators are again valued and where programs are initiated to support teaching and learning, a return to doing what is best for all of the students, a vision lost over the last couple of decades. I project a future in which the Democrats are stronger than ever supporters of public schools, unflinching and unwilling to accept anything less than the best for all of our nation’s students, especially not risky and fraudulent school choice schemes.
Thanks Betsy for being such an egregious choice for Education Secretary that you’ve united and revitalized the opposition to your broken ideas. If you are somehow confirmed, the unified force of all teachers—not just the Democrats—will have the brightest blinking light to look towards and know immediately what we need to work against.