Teachers could teach Betsy DeVos a thing or two

Betsy DeVos plays ‘Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?’ by Gordon Johnson

AUSTIN KLAWITTER | OPINION COLUMNIST | aklawitt@butler.edu

Betsy DeVos is a multibillionaire businesswoman, philanthropist, activist and political campaign contributor. Throughout her career she has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the Republican Party, essentially making her a very influential lobbyist.

She is an advocate of school choice, voucher programs and charter schools. And now she is the National Secretary of Education.

This job handles the overseeing of federal funding with regard to education-based policy. DeVos will have authority over students in the K-12 system as well as those in higher education through the handling of federal money.

Betsy DeVos has never attended a public school.

Betsy DeVos’ children have never attended a public school.

Betsy DeVos has never taught or been a part of the administration at a public school.

Even if you did not come from a public school and are disinterested with her effect on them, I’m sure many of you are familiar with student loans.

The money that eventually becomes student loans is essentially a trillion dollar loan bank, and it distributes $30 billion in Pell Grants, government subsidies for college students, each year.

DeVos has no experience running a bank, managing or overseeing a trillion dollar loan program and has never has never participated in one. Betsy DeVos has never taken out a student loan, her children never took out student loans and she has absolutely no personal experience with a Pell Grant.

She has no personal experience, in any sense, with college financial aid or the management of higher education.
If that does not frighten a college student, I cannot fathom what does.

Education professor Catherine Pangan offered her opinion of DeVos’s qualifications in an interview.

Education and educational policy are undeniably complex, and the role of the U.S. Secretary of Education is expansive as it covers federal policy and practice that includes pre-K through college,” Pangan said. “When you have 25 percent of the U.S. population associated with schools on a given weekday, having a leader with zero experience with teaching or educational policy, in my opinion, is educational malpractice.”

The information above screams one very important and obvious conclusion: Betsy DeVos could not be more unqualified to be the United States secretary of education, and examining her family’s contributions, it seems she purchased the position for herself.

Speaking of unqualified, Indiana residents received a huge punch to the gut when the Vice President Mike Pence confirmed DeVos by using his power to break ties on the Senate floor. After ruining public schools for us here with his funding formula, it seems Pence felt it was unfair the other 49 states could not feel his wrath.

The education work DeVos participated in has wreaked havoc on public schools and the teachers they employ.

Massive pay cuts and downsizing have plagued teachers as they are also left with less and less resources. The array of charter schools that parents have the option of choosing from in the Detroit area that DeVos has fought for have some of the lowest test scores.

Governmental roadblocks with regard to education are not permanent walls of inefficiency. Rather, they are opportunities for constituents, particularly students and teachers, to offer their thoughts on what should change.

Pangan discussed her own, Butler University’s and the College of Education’s involvement in and willingness to influence policy.

“Because our students get experiences in multiple environments throughout their Butler journeys, they come out ready to engage in the political challenges in a solution-focused way,” Pangan said. “Our dean, Ena Shelley, spends a lot of time at the statehouse meeting with legislature educating them on meaningful education practice. Our students have also spent time talking with Indiana congress people about education issues — policymakers know they are welcome in my classroom anytime.”

This drive to make actual improvements in one’s field is absolutely vital, and for a subject as important as education it is incredibly important to have teachers and students that want to make a change.

First-year education major Jillian Moss has apprehensions about the confirmation of Betsy DeVos but stated the importance of working to provide solutions beyond this setback.
“The education system is already damaged enough, and we are trying to work towards fixing it,” Moss said. “The confirmation is taking 10 steps backward, but teachers and potential teachers just have to be willing to work beyond it.”

During her confirmation hearings, DeVos refused to agree with the notion that public, charter and private schools should receive the same accountability standards. All she did was repeat that she is “an advocate of accountability.”

Teaching is an incredibly noble profession, and I owe absolutely all of my current success, whatever that may be, to my family and to the teachers I had during my years in the public school system.

Butler University has an accredited College of Education with a 100 percent job placement rate. Education majors, however, have reason to be worried about their future considering public schools have been called “a dead end” by our new Secretary of Education.

Moss stated why political actions like this make her more motivated to pursue the career she desires in elementary education.

“Things like this make me want to teach even more,” she said. “It is so important in going into this field, especially now, for new and potential teachers to have that passion and drive to go beyond government actions.”

Pangan offered similar thoughts on goals beyond the setbacks of governmental action.

“As political tides ebb and flow, it makes me even more motivated than ever to bring people into the education profession, as an education degree goes far beyond the traditional walls of the classroom,” she said. “Education is a profession that weaves in all disciplines — communication, leadership, science, the arts, business, law, sociological perspectives, healthcare, the list goes on — I appreciate the transdisciplinary nature of the work and the idea that we are all in this together.”

The motivation to take on the challenge and put forth effort to resolve this kind of treatment of the education system is not reserved for teachers or future teachers.

Disagreement can and should be expressed by all who have ever had some positive experience in their education system, or by those simply conscious of the financial responsibility of higher education. Anyone attending Butler University falls into at least one of those categories.

There is no reason to remain silent on the subject.

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