As I have many times since last January, I am compelled to write about the Secretary of Education as she has once again drawn negative attention to herself. Following are two recent events where Betsy DeVos showed who she really is.
Last week she spoke of how the structure of public school classrooms hasn’t changed since the industrial age. In her words, “Students lined up in rows. A teacher in front of a blackboard. Sit down; don’t talk; eyes up front. Wait for the bell. Walk to the next class,” she tweeted. “Everything about our lives has moved beyond the industrial era. But American education largely hasn’t” (The Hill). To drive her point she included a stock photo of a current classroom.
Teachers were quick to fire back.
“Don’t you know that stock photos aren’t real? How many classrooms have you visited in the past year? Classrooms don’t look like that anymore. Students don’t work like that anymore,”
“Rows and lectures are NOT the norm in public school,”
“It doesn’t look familiar at all. Have YOU even looked in a public school classroom in the last 10 years?”
“Come visit our school and classroom! We spend 75% of our day in small-groups, independent reading, researching our interests, learning about the world, and engaged in play. We love learning in hands-on ways and would welcome you any day!”
“How many classrooms have you visited in the past year? Classrooms don’t look like that anymore. Students don’t work like that anymore. I would think that as Sec of Edu you would be celebrating us, not putting us down” (The Hill)
Most teachers criticized DeVos for not having visited public school classrooms. If she had, she would see the reality is largely contradictory to her stock photo analogy. One would think the Secretary of Education would support and advocate for the roughly 3 million public school teachers in the US , rather than demean and devalue them.
Last Wednesday the Secretary visited Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland, FL and students were not pleased. DeVos met with a few students, “and gave “BS answers” to their questions about what she plans to do to address gun violence (Huffington Post). A small group of student journalists grew increasingly frustrated as the Secretary dodged their questions (Time).
According to Alyson Sheehy, “It was a publicity stunt, really. There was no point to it,” Sheehy said DeVos didn’t meet specifically with any students. “She was kind of just walking around the school and not talking to anybody,” the high school senior said (Huffington Post).
When a student asked DeVos how she plans to stop school shootings, DeVos showed reluctance. “She kind of gave us simple answers and didn’t really answer the questions we asked,” Sheehy said. When the students pressed her for an answer, DeVos told them officials were “working really hard on things” and that she didn’t “think this is the time to really ask those types of questions” (Time).
During the press coverage, she defended Trump’s call to arm teachers, but quickly walked away from the podium when asked about it (New York Daily News). ‘I think to say ‘arming teachers’ is oversimplification and a mischaracterization really,’ DeVos said later. She continued, ‘I think that the concept is to, for those schools and those communities that opt to do this … to have people who are expert in being able to defend and having lots and lots of training to do so” (CNN).
At the end of her press coverage, she called for elevating ideas that are ‘done well.’
‘Like what?’ asked a reporter. ‘Any specific things?’ asked another.
‘Thank you, press,’ said an aide off camera, as DeVos walked away. ‘Five questions, that’s it?’ said a reporter as she avoided a follow-up about arming teachers (Daily Mail).
If DeVos’ plan was the connect with students at MSD High School, she did not do a very good job. She met with only a few students, did not answer their questions, and walked out of the press conference without addressing any specific concerns. As Kyra Parrow said,“She wasn’t informative or helpful at all. It’s nice that she came to give us condolences, but we are so done with thoughts and prayers. We want action… She didn’t come to inform us or talk about how we are going to fix this issue; she just came to say that she came. That disappoints me.”
DeVos spoke with reporters following her visit, saying, “I was just there to be there, to be with them. I would love to come back sometime, in an appropriate amount of time, and just sit down and talk to them” (CNN).
Later the same day, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade made a surprise visit to the MSD, meeting with students and staff. Speaking to students, Wade said, “I just wanted to come and say I’m inspired by all of you… As someone out here in the public eye, I’m proud to say I’m from this state because of you guys, because of the future of this world” (Huffington Post).
While I am encouraged by Wade’s thoughtful comments to students, I am appalled by DeVos’ lack of self-awareness. If this was a publicity stunt, it wasn’t even done well.
“I was there to be there.”
That says it all.
***This blog was written prior to DeVos’ abysmal interview on 60 Minutes last Sunday night. I am compelled to respond, but I need to spend some time on it. Next week’s blog will be about DeVos’ interview with Lesley Stahl.
These are my reflections for today.
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