Friday, November 25, 2016

The DeVostater: Public School Advocates Unite!
By Dr. Michael Flanagan



Like most public school teachers, I was disheartened at the nomination of billionaire education reformer Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. Her vendetta against public education is renowned, and rightly so. She has put together quite the anti-public education resume: philanthropist funder of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Education Excellence, pro-voucher fanatic, charter school profiteer and Common Core proponent (Diamond, Acosta, 2016).

If you were writing a screenplay, where the antagonist has devised a sinister master plan to destroy public education, you could not do better than creating a character like Betsy DeVos. Heir to the ponzi-scheming AMWAY fortune, she’s never taught a day in her life. She has no education degrees, certification or teaching license. DeVos and her children have never even attended public schools. She brags about buying political influence (Mayer, 2016), which has led the State of Michigan to install the most unregulated charter schools in the nation (Michigan AFL-CIO, 2016).  All of this has flown in the face of overwhelming evidence that none of the privatization policies she champions have actually benefitted children (Tyler, 2016). It is at this point in the screenplay that the plot would take its turn. We now have a rallying point for the divided forces of the pro-public education movement.  
I recently watched former public school teacher and NYS Green Party candidate Brian Jones debating DeVos on John Stossel (Stossel, 2014). He would have been better off debating a brick wall. Since the announcement education activists, union leaders and teacher groups like the Badass Teachers Association, have been kicking her billionaire butt all up and down the social media street (Ravitch, 2016). The memes against her nomination have been shared millions of times. It is a beautiful thing. We needed a clear-cut enemy to focus and galvanize education activists and the unions. Maybe we can stop our infighting for a bit. There’s a totally different vibe happening right now. Almost feels like…unity?
The DeVos nomination has clearly demonstrated what public school students and teachers will face under the Trump administration. That has caused an immediate avalanche of push back against her nomination. DeVos is a textbook villain to public education. Her focus is clearly on privatization. In addition, Trump's supporters are still expecting him to denounce Common Core. His nomination for Secretary of Education shows he won't be doing that. The anti-Common Core parents who voted for him will probably come out against DeVos as well. It feels like fear has turned to determination in the EdActivist movement.

Until now, education activists have fought against privatization with one hand tied behind our backs. The attacks on public education were instituted by the Obama administration, and supported by our union leaders. That is no longer the case. If the education reformers’ tactic was to divide and conquer the parents, teachers and unions, then the DeVos appointment will be a pyrrhic victory. She will indeed dismantle and sell off the public schools to enrich herself and her cronies with the taxpayer funding, but ultimately she will fail. With our villain clearly defined in this surreal screenplay, we can marshal our forces. The rebellion can begin.

Unfortunately though, things will get worse before they get better. Sometimes you have to let things break before you fix them, instead of pretending they still work. So this is a call to action for all education activists. Whatever differences we may have had are done. We have met the enemy, and she is DeVos. Time to up our game. Public school advocates unite! We are all we have.

Here are two actions you can start with:

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