Thursday, February 9, 2017

In a move that no human resources director anywhere would make, the Senate Republicans selected Betsy DeVos, a distinctly unqualified nominee, to be the new Secretary of Education. It took an historic vote requiring the vice president to cast the tie-breaking vote, the first time ever for a cabinet nomination.

Only two Republicans publicly recognized that DeVos was unfit for the job, despite a bipartisan flood of calls, emails and letters from constituents and an all-night effort by Democratic Senators to clarify their concerns. Every Senator in that chamber should be well aware of DeVos’s shortcomings from the hearings and from the concerns expressed by a broad swath of the American public, and yet they chose party over support for public education.

It is easy to feel frustrated and angry that so many voices were not heeded and evidence was ignored. A cherished American institution may just have been sold to the highest bidder.

Flush from a successful election, the Senators have 2, 4 or 6 years before facing reelection and constituent unhappiness does not affect them at this moment like it will in a year or 18 months. To a certain extent the public can be ignored; they are counting on our short attention spans and the likelihood of a multitude of other outrages to distract us from the relatively minor doings of the Department of Education.

What to do with the anger and frustration? Anger is useful only if it spurs you to action; so here are some actions you can take:

Political Action
Continue to write/call. You can find contact information here.

Thank the Senators who voted against and express displeasure with those who voted for her. Check which class they are in (Class I is up for reelection in 2019, etc.) Let them know you’ll put that date on your calendar. Even if you cannot vote as a nonresident of their state, you can contribute to their opponent and you can urge your friends and family who do live there to vote against them.

Become aware/involved in resistance movements.

Follow the work of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee:

Local Action
Attend a local school board meeting, meet your school board members, express your hopes, your concerns and your support.

If you are a parent—get your kids to school every day, check their school work, read to them, get to know their teachers, expect the best from them.

Support and campaign for necessary referendums in your school district.

Contribute—financially if you can, to your local school, a public college or university or a student scholarship fund.

Contribute your time on a regular or occasional basis to volunteer in a classroom, tutor or mentor a child, help in the library, participate in fundraising efforts.

Thank the teachers and the staff for their efforts on behalf of kids.

Get to know the kids in your neighborhood, your community and your extended family. Encourage them in their education. 

Personal Action
Educate yourself about education policy and funding. Education is still primarily local, but funding and policy decisions happen at federal, state and school district levels.

Check out website of the Department of Education—, You can subscribe to receive email updates.

Check out the Minnesota Department of Education— or the education department in your state.

Get to know the history and current roles of teachers’ unions. This article would be a good place to start:

Find readable and astute books on the subject: Diane Ravitch; Reign of Error and The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Dona Goldstein, The Teacher Wars, will get you going.  Next steps?  Share titles with your book group or other readers and thinkers you know, in person or online.

Rupert Murdoch pronounced US education “a $500 billion sector…waiting desperately to be transformed.” Learn who the “reformers” are behind their benign names and how privatization will enrich them without improving educational outcomes.

Whatever you choose to do: Be civil, don’t call names, but be smart, be informed, be persistent and check your spelling! Be the change you wish to see in the world!

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