Last week Betsy DeVos and DC Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson visited Jefferson Middle School Academy. Initially blocked from entering the front door by protestors who were unenthused by DeVos’ presence, she was finally able to enter the building through a side door. Once inside, she visited classrooms, met teachers and students who were proud to show the Secretary what they were doing in their classrooms, and DeVos left saying her visit was “awesome” (Washington Post).
However, days later in an interview with Townhall, a conservative online publication, DeVos told a columnist that the teachers at Jefferson were “waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child”(Washington Post). She didn’t see what they were doing. She didn’t get it.
Does she want to believe there is nothing good going on in urban schools so she can gain support for The School Choice Act? Or is she just talking out of both sides of her mouth- one side to the teachers and administrators of Jefferson, and the other to a conservative publication? If that’s true, then she’s a hypocrite.
No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.
Not all urban schools are failing. Not all teachers in urban schools are failing. Not all children in urban schools are failing. If we only believed what we read in the news or saw through the media, we might think the opposite is true and all the schools, teachers and students are failing. But that is only one view. DeVos gave lip service to the students, staff, and administration, and gave an obligatory nod as she left the building. When she was back in her own comfort zone of conservatism she spoke her truth. “You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.”(Washington Post). That’s what the Jefferson teachers were doing. She didn’t see it.
Given the news of DeVos’ statements to Townhall, teachers at Jefferson spoke out. According to Emma Brown of the Washington Post, the teachers were furious and responded via Twitter. “We’re about to take her to school”, said one teacher.
The tweetstorm singled out teachers like Jessica Harris, who built Jefferson’s band program “from the ground up,” and Ashley Shepherd and Britany Locher, who not only teach students ranging from a first- to eighth-grade reading level, but also “maintain a positive classroom environment focused on rigorous content, humor, and love. They aren’t waiting to be told what to do” (Brown, 2017).
When asked to respond to DeVos’ statements, Chancellor Wilson had this to say:
I’ve worked in schools for my entire professional life — as a teacher, principal, and superintendent. I have learned from much experience what it takes to prepare students for college success. The teaching and learning at Jefferson will put our students on a path to college, successful careers, and beyond. I see that. Our teachers see that. Our students see that. And our parents see that. Defying expectations takes experience and a lifelong dedication to all students. DCPS is rich with educators who have this experience (Brown, 2017).
DeVos saw what she wanted to see at Jefferson through a single lens. What she saw is very different from the people inside the building who see something different every day. These teachers are empowered and have risen to the challenge of helping their students achieve and be the very best they can be.
I would not walk into an operating room, give thumbs up to the surgeons and staff and then walk outside and criticize their methods, for I am not a surgeon. DeVos has no formal background or experience in education. She would be well-advised to be careful criticizing teachers. Even more important, DeVos would be well-advised to keep going into schools and seeing the good that goes on every day. That doesn’t make her a teacher, but maybe she would see more than a single lens view.
In this TED Talk by novelist Chimamanda Adichie, she gives her personal account of the dangers of a single story – one of my personal favorite talks.
These are my reflections for today.