If You Want to Subvert Betsy Devos, Choose Your Neighborhood School

“There are no such thing as other people’s children” – Glennon Doyle Melton

It has become rallying cry amongst women like me. Most of us white, Christian, maybe a little more liberal than our pastor or families suspect, (but maybe not since the election, when we outed ourselves on Facebook). There are no such thing as other people’s children. This is a thing that we say, because this is the point at which our activism began. Our motherhood linked us to global motherhood and we could hear the cry of mothers with less privilege than our own.

This is why the appointment of Betsy Devos has made so many of us so angry. The system of education that she promotes is a system that employs an us and them dichotomy, one that makes you believe that the best education of your own child requires that you abandon the kids who do not have a choice to leave. It is a system that pits mother against mother, instead of one that demands that all children we treated as precious and worthy of a quality education.

Like most of the fury in this country, we are both angry at the things that this women promotes, and furious at a system that got us here in the first place. We rallied, tweeted, we called our senators and pledged to actively campaign against them. Some of us pledged to run against them if we had to. We were, and are loudly and proudly against the threat this woman is to public education, and in particular to special education. We were clear, and we were ignored.

I was heartened by the enormous support of a NO vote on Devos, but I am afraid that when it comes down to kindergarten registration, there will be such a thing as other people’s children. There will be an us versus them. There will be a quiet getting in line to go to the schools with the best reputations, because while there are no such thing as other people’s children, I still need to do right by my own child. I still need to protect my own, even if that means other people’s children get left behind. This dichotomy is powerful; it is also a lie.

I am one of the few middle class parents in my area who has decided to send my kids to the local neighborhood school, despite the space available in the neighborhood charter school. What started as a “well, it is free so we will see” spot in the pre-k program has turned into a deep love for the community that is my daughter’s school. I have the principal on speed dial and the PTA president in my text messages. I hear every day about how well-loved my babies are, mostly from my babies who are thriving there. I have been blessed by a community who teaches reading,writing, and math to my kids, and also has time for a robotics lab experience and a deep commitment to raising good citizens. It is also poorly rated on the state website. Because of this, most of the parents who look like me won’t even give this school a chance, because this school was set up by the system that Betsy Devos represents.

No one wants to fail their babies by sending them to a failing school. The schools in this country are given this label based on test scores. The test scores do not in fact reflect learning and positive environment accurately. All they reflect is how much money the kids in the school come from. Mostly, standardized tests test for poverty. They also tests for whiteness. A school with a “failing” score is pretty much guaranteed to be impoverished. It is also very likely to be primarily students of color. The system is rigged to create an us versus them and to capitalize on white middle class parents making choices out of fear. This lie encourages parents to pull their kid from the neighborhood school and send them to a safe school, whiter, richer, less kids with special needs. It isn’t about that these other kids are bad, it is just that the this lie works. Our schools are more segregated than they have ever been because parents are afraid of the label failing that has been foisted upon schools that serve communities of color.

I know it is no small thing to send your kid off to school. I know it is serious business, educating our children. I spent almost 10 years doing it. I know how important this decision is.

Betsy Devos isn’t the beginning of the systematic dismantling of our public schools. She is simply the face of a faceless nameless entity that has been subverting public education since I went to college to be a teacher, probably before that.

The system  she represents currently uses the rhetoric of competition and choice, ignoring the fact that these choices are not available to every person within the community. Ignoring the fact that competition means someone will lose, and our kids are too important to participate in a system that has a loser. But the truly amazing thing about this rhetoric of choice and competition is that the parents still have a huge amount of power. As the mother of two daughters in a public school, I have far more power on the local level than I ever did as a teacher.  Parents, the choice is still ours.

We can choose to reject the dismantling of the public school system. We can say, we have looked at your choices. We have chosen not to choose them. Our choice is a vibrant and beautiful community school where all kids are looked after. I choose to believe that the education of my child is wrapped up in the education of all children. I choose to believe that my neuro-typical child benefits from the inclusion of children all over the spectrum of learning. I choose to believe that my child will benefit from a diverse environment that accurately reflects my community more than my child will benefit from any special programming a charter or private school may have to offer.

I can give you the research that backs this claim. ALL children benefit from a diverse learning environment. ALL children benefit when disabled children are included in the learning environment. I can give you years of personal anecdotes from my time as a teacher in an inclusion classroom. I can give you testimony as a mother, who is benefiting from a neighborhood school that I love.

But I am afraid this will not matter. The lies that the schools are in fact failing, that sending your kid to a school with low test scores is to fail them as a parent is a lie that is powerful and prevalent in this country. It is one that I was almost willing to believe, and it is now one that I find on the lips of people in my community on almost a daily basis. But it is a lie.

I am afraid that the very parents who have fought, and yelled, tweeted and sent letters, marched in protests against this very appointment because it will hurt our schools, will not be willing to put their children in my school. Instead of staying and demanding equality for all, they will take their child and all the resources that go with her, and run to the haven of a school with higher test scores. I am afraid that when it comes right down to it, Betsy Devos can be maligned, but her system will be used by the very people who vocalized so loudly against her.

We can still defeat her system. We can still win this fight. It is going to take committing to our public schools in word, deed, money, time, and especially in the sending of our own children. If there are no such thing as other people’s children, there needs to be nothing but all of our schools.

4 thoughts on “If You Want to Subvert Betsy Devos, Choose Your Neighborhood School

  1. I’m not in your country, so won’t be directly affected by the decisions you’re discussing, and all systems have their own structures and quirks. But as a public school teacher and a public school parent, here’s some things I have seen. Smaller schools or less ‘prestigious’ schools offer opportunities to a much wider cross-section of the school population. Leadership opportunities, representative sporting opportunities, cross-age tutoring, extra curricular opportunities are opened up to kids who may just be ‘another face in the crowd’ at a ‘good’ school. Empathy, collaboration, problem-solving and communication can be privileged when kids aren’t feeling the pressure from home to compete with the kid sitting next to them and come out on top. And being at a ‘better’ school does not mean better teachers, at least where I live. We don’t have the same pressure around testing and results, so it is often less confident/competent teachers who jump through the hoops for a ‘cushier’ position, whereas the innovative, passionate teachers go where they’re ‘needed’ and where schools are happier to take risks with ‘new’ approaches. It does not mean a ‘better’ education. It means you get to sit in a newer classroom with kids whose parents earn more money. For some parents, that might be important. Not for us. We want our kids to learn alongside the people that they live alongside. We want them to be friends and classmates with their neighbours. I admit that I may feel differently if I had serious concerns about my local school, but I believe that my kids will be who they’re going to be.

  2. I’m glad you wrote your point of view on this out b/c I’m not too politically involved, yet I keep seeing the strong public outcry to DeVos and wondering what’s up. I grew up in a diverse school. We were bussed across town to force the school to be 50/50. It worked out well in my city, but I’ve seen other cities where the system just crumbled. I’ve sent my kids to all 3 different kinds of schools: public, home school, and Christian school. I have all boys. 2 have ADD and the large class sizes were a disaster, even though our public school was extremely high performing. Christian school worked best for us. Schooling is such a complex situation. Each family has to do what’s best for them.
    Public education is paramount b/c not every family can afford “best for them.” And home-schooling was a nightmare for me, I was so miserable, so it is vital that we keep our public schools as a viable option for all.
    I read that DeVos wants to give funding to private schools so that low-income parents who could normally not afford a private school could send their kids to one. Now that would actually be awesome-sauce to me, b/c the fact is the public school doesn’t always work out for all kids. High performing kids can thrive about anywhere. Special needs kids have to choose more carefully.
    What actually bothered me about DeVos was that she has no education experience. Say whaaaaaaat????? Are you kidding me??? So I think it’s a mixed bag situation. I’m good with trying out different things. Not all schools work for all kids. But no education background. That is a huge mistake. I only worked in the schools as a teacher one year, but it was extremely eye-opening.

  3. Thank you for writing so perfectly all the thoughts I wish I could put into words. When we decided to send our middle schooler to the neighborhood “black school” I could find no one talking about the subject. It made me sad. And even sadder to see all the liberals promote one set of beliefs but act in a totally different way for their kids. It is nice to know we are not alone.

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