Wednesday, February 8, 2017

DeVos' First Promises by Cheryl Binkley


I listened to Betsy DeVos'  opening remarks to the Department of Education staff today, and was grateful for the Masters in Euphemistic Double Speak I earned under the various prior administrations at my schools and in the greater Education world.

Phil Rosenfelt, the long time Department Acting person spoke in code to his old colleagues, reminding everyone that all of them took an oath to uphold the Constitution and their mission was for equity and opportunity for the children, He spoke about the same length of time as Betsy on the importance of trying to listen to one another. (I remember once when I tried to gently suggest that to an administrator--, didn't work very well.) He did not give Betsy an effusive introduction, but was professional, respectful and welcomed her.

Betsy said all the things she thought she was supposed to say, that she would work with those who had been for her and those who had been against her, that she was an open door person (oddly, no one who has ever told me that as a boss actually was).

But careful as she was, there were a couple of places where she let slip what her actual perspective was.

She said all children are born with innate curiosity and wanted to learn, but there were problems. The problems were the adult humans around them who got in the way.

It doesn't take much to figure out that the adult humans she considers in the way are teachers. A word she could not bring herself to use. She spoke of educators, but not in proximity to words about students.

I am always suspicious of officials who call everyone who works in the education field Educators. It's always seemed to me a way of equating very different jobs as the same. Someone who works in an office all day and struggles with a word processor or spreadsheet in equated with the person who manages interactive learning in a classroom with a substantial group of young people every day. The jobs just aren't  close enough to call them the same job. But I think the reason Betsy couldn't say the word teacher is because she really doesn't want to acknowledge them other than as the problem for our children's learning.

Another place she gave a bit of her "vision" away is that she said she was there to create something "new and transformative." Let me also say, I'm a bit skeptical of anyone who declares themselves able to create transformation. In spite of amazing magic shows and a multitude of "thought leader" consultants these days, real transformation of anything is a tough thing to do, especially with humans. But the difficulty of transformative learning wasn't what she was talking about. 

What she did mean sent a chill up my spine. She used another phrase, "New world class education opportunities."

She was saying outright that she intended to change everything-- Transformation is not fixing around the edges. It's not losing a dress size. It's not fixing the furnace, mending the roof, and painting the rooms. Transformative is when you knock down the 4 bedroom 2 bath you bought, haul all the pieces to the dump, and put a McMansion with faux stone, fancy chandeliers, and very little insulation on the vacant lot.

I knew, right then-- though she had been fairly careful to avoid  many Edu-triggers from the old jargon, (no schools improvement, no accountability talk) --- I knew that she had not reconciled herself to anything less than a complete knock down and rebuild.

She encouraged everyone to listen carefully. I did, and I felt like the first time I watched the Shining.

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