The most contentious confirmation of Trump’s cabinet nominees was for the relatively innocuous Secretary of Education. Why? National Review columnist Kevin Williamson suggests it’s because the Democrat Party power is the lowest since the Civil War; because teachers’ unions are its biggest source of funds; and because nominee Betsy DeVos supports voucher programs to reform American education. Democrats are famously “pro-choice” when it comes to mothers aborting their children, but definitely anti-choice when it comes to where their children go to school. Unless those mothers happen to be rich, their children must go to the local public school no matter how bad it may be. They have no choice, and teachers’ unions want to keep it that way.
If DeVos is successful, she will stimulate widespread school-choice programs at the state and/or national levels which are kryptonite for the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Union monopoly would be as broken as Humpty Dumpty. The Democrat Party would see both its funding and its stranglehold on academia decline precipitously.
When Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) challenged Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader, he said: “[Democrats are] at the point now where we are not even a national party… We have some support on the coast, but we lost the support of Middle America.” Democrats are also losing the support of many middle and lower-middle class urban blacks who vigorously support school choice programs, and constitute a vitally important Democrat voting block. The party is so anemic after eight years of Obama, it could very well pass away. That’s why DeVos is such a threat.
“There’s nothing new in education,” said Ellen May, dean of the graduate school of education I attended in the seventies and that contrasted strongly with what I was constantly hearing as a young teacher elsewhere. In seminars, in-service training sessions, and in the classes I had to attend in both undergrad and graduate school, all I heard were people saying how excited they were to be starting a new program for teaching this or that.
Throughout my thirty-six year career, “new” things would come and go so often it was impossible to keep count. You’d hear from “excited” teachers at the beginning, but you’d never from the disappointed ones when the “new” programs’ rosy prognostications didn’t materialize. Instead, teachers would get “so excited” about the next “new” thing, but the only new things I saw during my nearly four decades in education were words – jargon, newspeak, nomenclature. Academics were constantly changing terminology. Teachers weren’t teachers anymore. They were “educators.” There were no more classrooms, just “learning environments.” There were no more tests, only “assessments,” and so on. But did anything really change? Only the bureaucracy: it grew and grew.
Schools had always been local. Teachers were accountable to the children they taught, to their parents, and to local school boards. Then, state governments intervened concerning things like how long the school day and school year should be, what subjects must be taught at what levels, etc. Then the federal government got involved, and has been increasing its control ever since President Carter established the US Department of Education. And who controls that? Teachers’ unions do, especially the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. They also control most state government education departments as well as state colleges and universities where teachers must attend indoctrination sessions, I mean classes, in the “new” educational methods in order to receive state certification – a symbiotic relationship if there ever was one. Very few of the classes I was forced to sit through as a graduate and undergraduate actually helped me to teach. I had to unlearn most of it to be a good teacher.
Democrat critics say DeVos has no educational experience. She has worked for decades, however, so more children could have the educational opportunities she had coming from a wealthy family. She knows good schools from bad ones, and good teachers from bad ones. But, then, we all do. We’ve all had good teachers and bad and most of us have gone to good and bad schools as well. “Educators” insist they alone can make those distinctions but voters are wising up and trusting their own instincts.
Not a single Democrat senator is expected to support DeVos. Two Republicans have declared against her as well: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Maine’s own Susan Collins. Both get thousands from teachers’ unions. The Senate voted 50 to 50 this week, with Vice President Pence breaking the tie. Betsy DeVos is now Secretary DeVos, and real educational reform can commence but the controversy isn’t over. Teachers’ unions and Democrats will escalate their attacks as she gets going. They have to. They know that if they don’t stop DeVos, they’ll die.