Conversation with Teachers- Part 1 (of many)

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Today, as I checked by Facebook page for anything interesting, several of my teacher friends (I substitute teach rather full time in a public elementary school) had posted that the NJEA- New Jersey’s arm of the NEA- was requesting that teachers wear black to school today.  The reason was some kind of protest against Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education.

Naturally, I did not wear black, but many, many teachers did today.  OK…well some of them have only black and gray in their wardrobe anyway so they were going to wear black regardless.  In fact, one wears so much black one would think she is Morticia Addams.

When asked why I was not wearing black by one of my favorite teachers at the school, I asked her what it was exactly that they were protesting or, in her words, “mourning.”  She informed me that it was the pending confirmation of Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education.  She told me that they- the Senate- were voting on the nomination today.

Of course, I had checked the Senate calendar lest I look like a fool and informed her that the vote was likely to occur tomorrow and that they were still debating the nomination.  That brought a quizzical look from Mrs. P who then fluffed it off as a “whatever…she’s not qualified for the job.”   Silly teacher’s union can’t even get the date right.

So that got me to thinking and probing this teacher for her thoughts on Betsy DeVos and I came to the unmistakable conclusion that Mrs. P had absolutely no idea of who DeVos was other than what she had been spoon fed by the NJEA propaganda machine.  The fact that she was billionaire met with a shrug of the shoulders from me as if being financially successful was some kind of disqualification for a job.  Ms. DeVos’ finances concern me not one iota.

“Well, did you know she never worked in a school?” I was asked.  I had done my homework- something teachers assign but should get in a habit of doing themselves before they speak.  If confirmed, DeVos will be the 11th Education Secretary.  When I informed her that of the previous ten that only two had any K-12 classroom experience I was met with silence.  Regardless, I asked whether the Agriculture Secretary should be a farmer or Treasury Secretary a banker, I received no answer.

When told she never attended a public school, I informed her that many cabinet members, including several Education Secretaries did not attend public schools.  Regardless, if not teaching in a public school is not is prerequisite for the job, why should attendance at a public school in one’s youth be a prerequisite?

Well… ooops… DeVos’ children also never attended public school.  So now where her kids attend school are also suddenly a prerequisite for a bureaucratic/administrative job in Washington.  Barack Obama’s Education Department was responsible for public education.  Should he have sent his kids to public school?  But, we were homing in on my kill….

“She’s for school choice and that is going to cost public schools money,” came the retort.  I tried to illustrate how a good school choice program would work, how per pupil spending on public school students would likely statistically increase, that a well-run program would be means-tested and that not everyone would receive the full value of a voucher or credit or whatever.

I explained that school choice was nothing but giving students and parents an option on where their child is educated- that it could be a public school or a charter school, or parochial school or private school.  Most importantly, I asked why an economically disadvantaged student should be denied a choice that more affluent, white children take for granted or a birthright?  Isn’t it, in fact, kind of racist to force students to continue to attend failing schools?

I was fully expecting to be hit with a barrage of statistics about how public schools are underfunded in New Jersey, but even members of the NJEA know that not to be the case.  Instead, I got the question: “I thought you were conservative,” as if a conservative cannot realize the systemic racism in keeping economically disadvantaged students in failing schools with no choice to break that cycle.

“Well, when you explain it that way… but you know it isn’t going to happen that way,” I was told.  And I conceded the fact that, no- it probably will not go down the way I described.  But neither will there be the great educational apocalypse prompting the wearing of black by New Jersey teachers if Betsy DeVos is confirmed as the 11th Secretary of Education.

But two thoughts came to me as I finished up the conversation, neither of which I expressed.  The first was that what teachers fear is a loss of good students.  They fear that if there is true school choice, the truly good students will opt for something other than a public education and that they will be left with the riff-raff.  That would make their job harder, but considering the fact that many hold useless Master’s and Doctorate degrees long on educational theory and short on educational practice, they’ll have to put those advanced degrees to work.

The second thought is that I was basically not “debating” or discussing anything with another teacher; I was talking to a meme or an automaton of the NJEA.  If teachers ever realized that conservative ideas and ideals can advance the teaching profession and improve education more than their phony unions ever could, it would be a great epiphany in America.