Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education has caused quite a stir. I watched her confirmation hearing and it was awkward. If her confirmation hearing were a sound, it’d be the snapping of a limb as it hits the concrete and breaks. Question after question, she struggled to give answers that were relevant to what she was asked, let alone satisfactory. I watched as senators representing several states each took their turn passing and spiking the football that was Betsy DeVos. If I were Betsy DeVos’ friend, I would have offered her some Sleepytime tea and Vick’s.
Of course, despite being a clearly unqualified candidate for the position, she was confirmed. People were and still are upset. I’m not. I’ve been mulling this over in my head and at some point, I think it’s time to admit that there’s merit to the notion that the value you assign to something is the value that other people will assign to it as well. What if Betsy DeVos is karma?
I know that some of you may call bullshit but let’s sketch this out. It’s no secret that America has become pretty anti-intellectual. I’m sure we can all remember the video where the white teen in Duncanville, TX stands up and rants against the teacher about the fact that they ‘don’t do anything’ and then he storms out. Teens and adults all over the internet cheered him on. I think the teacher (she may have been a substitute teacher by some reports), was suspended. People were all amped up about this student who became a modern-day Norma Rae and performed that small gesture in favor of students everywhere (I guess). I’m willing to bet though, he didn’t proceed straightaway to the library and go on a quest for the knowledge of which he believed he was being deprived.
What we also see are statuses and graphics blaming the US education system for not teaching people a myriad of things from how to do taxes to how to fill out a check. People can no longer write complete sentences without confusing simple homonyms. Watch Judge Judy for a week and you’ll hear “tooken” (as opposed to “taken”) at least 4 times followed by Juditha’s (my name for her) admonition that “TOOKEN IS NOT A WORD!” If that’s not enough, this country, the self-proclaimed “greatest country” in the world, elected Donald J. Trump, a man with absolutely no political background or governmental knowledge (obviously) whatsoever, to be president.
At some point, we’ve started to believe that it’s somebody else’s job to give us everything, even the knowledge in our head. Society claims over and over again that education is important. Parents swear that they want the best for their children; but as someone who has worked at various schools, public, charter and private, I’ve seen some of these same parents argue with teachers and administrators about the expectation that their children come to school with the minimum level of preparedness. I’ve found myself on the phone with a parent wanting an explanation as to why the school doesn’t provide pencils, paper, colored pencils, and everything else on the annual school supply list while her child regularly showed up in the latest popular threads. I’ve had one too many exchanges with parents who swore that a ¾” binder or $5.00 safety goggles were out of reach while rapidly fluttering their perfectly done eyelash extensions and wagging their expertly manicured fingers. The free tutoring was either too early or too late or on the wrong day. Guess who wanted conferences at the end of the semester when their child basically needed a magic wand to pass though?
***Pause for accusations of shaming, classism, elitism, and three-headed kitten scenarios***
There’s a lot of worry about what DeVos’s intentions towards public schools are. Public schools are known to be resource-deficient in comparison to private schools. They are also known to show poorer academic performance results amongst the students than those of private schools. Many believe the former and the latter are correlational, if not causational. People are concerned that public school students will receive even less education if DeVos has her way. That’s not necessarily an irrational fear, as you get what you pay for and public school is free. I’m concerned, however, that people haven’t figured out that it’s unwise to lay the whole burden of becoming educated on school (of any type).
Despite what the tenets of the modern SJM may suggest, many times what you get is a mirror of what you give yourself. We’ve argued (absurdly) for years about whether or not teachers get paid too much. We started hiring unqualified post-teenagers at lower salaries to teach and that pissed us off too. We pretty much force teachers to fill in the financial gaps that the districts, government, and parents won’t. We tried to make teachers responsible for students not performing well on tests. We tried “no retention” policies so that students who were ill-equipped were passed on to the next grade anyway in favor of their (and frankly, their parents’) self-image. We created free assistance programs and then blamed poverty for people not taking advantage of them. We decided that homework was too cumbersome for students and that it was too much to expect parents to actually help their children with it. Parents blamed their children’s teachers for not teaching them…everything. Students blame the education system for not teaching them things their parents should have taught them, (all while being pissed that they can’t use their cellphones in class). The curiosity that is supposed to provoke people to learn enough to be able to think through a question has turned into a quest to be given the answer in 0.42 seconds.
We whine about it. We feign outrage about all of these students getting out of high school and having to take remedial everything in college because at best, they memorized just enough to get through the tests they had to take from K through 12. And after that, we turn around and do the exact same thing: decide that the school system we just ranted against is 100% responsible for making sure the next generation of students don’t become the next crop of Fredo Corleones.
In that vein, is it any wonder that a country that constantly devalues education ended up with the head of the Department of Education being someone who is unclear about the difference between growth and proficiency? Does it matter when we don’t care about it either? Maybe all of those years of being totally ambivalent about education has come back to bite us in the ass.
Three-headed kitten scenario©: (coined) a usually fabricated event that is used to make someone’s actions seem less ridiculous than they actually were.
Ex: Jane said condoms failed when each of her three children were conceived. That sounds like a three-headed kitten scenario to me.