“The nomination of Betsy DeVos for secretary of education has reignited the age-old battle over education policy.”
Yes, former Governor Mitt Romney, that is true. But not because, as you said, “a lot of money is at stake”, but rather because our children are. You see Mitt, and I hope it’s okay that I call you Mitt, it’s not really about the money, and it’s never been about the money. Until you got involved.
For the rest of us it’s always kinda been about the children. Yes, we see an unprecedented threat to our public schools, and the corruption of a once revered public education system. We see public resources given, with sanctioned preference, to private and for-profit schools. We see a clannish group of politically and financially motivated actors, drooling over a pot of cash.
But day to day, we see books and desks and supplies- and children, while you see only donors and dollars.
Recently you’ve concocted some grand charade in which billions and billions of American children are being inflicted harm upon by a corrupt, money-grubbing, union-bullied, public education system. Which is sort of how you see the world.
But it’s not the way I see the world, not the way we see the world.
You see- I came into teaching as a second career, a second incarnation of self, and because of that I have a slightly different perspective on education than you do. I left the auto industry- the same industry you said in 2008 would be better served by being allowed to become bankrupt- in 1989, when the first tidal wave of American self-doubt swept through the heart of heavy industry. We were an industry shaken, and you blamed it all on us- the guys in the coveralls, the union guys.
You said we were dinosaurs, you said we were obstructionists. But you never once set foot on the factory floor in the building I worked in, the building erected proudly in 1933 that was somehow now supposed to house the future of American manufacturing. In my factory we made rear axles- for Chevy Camaros and Pontiac Trans Ams, and a myriad of other midsize GM vehicles which were then sold to hard working Americans like you and me. And we built good axles at our factory, despite the fact that we were working on machines that were 50 years old.
We were good until suddenly we weren’t.
The change was epic- fast, sweeping, all-encompassing. We walked into work one day and were told that everything we knew was wrong. The Japanese had this different way of seeing, and as a result their cars were different, their whole world was different. You said they were better than we were and everything had to change. You told us it was the fault of the guys in the coveralls for not seeing this coming, for not being prepared.
Then one day you gathered us all together in a big room, a room that oddly didn’t smell like fermented grease and soured coolant and a half century of rot, a room most of us had never been invited into before, a room I didn’t even know existed- a room where plans were made and thinking occurred, and you told us we needed to be “reeducated.”
My reeducation was a pink slip and a vague lecture about tuition reimbursement. “Good luck, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Truck driving schools are looking for people. Or try computer programming.”
When you’ve spent twenty years of your life building things, it’s hard to suddenly reimagine yourself as a computer programmer. In 1989 who knew what that even meant? Program what to do what? Who even owned a computer in 1989?
I was one of the lucky ones. I was still young enough and single enough to be able pinch an unemployment check hard enough to allow me to pay a mortgage and enroll in college and start all over again. Most of the others were not so fortunate.
I said goodbye to a good paying, middle class, semi-skilled job through no fault of my own, and I was told that it was my fault. I was told that jobs like mine were a dying breed. But in all honesty is was all about the money, about cutting losses.
I was one of the lucky ones. I got a shot at a Bachelors Degree and a new job that paid half what I was earning before, with the promise that I could keep my job if I got a Masters degree too. And I learned a life lesson…
It’s NOT about the money, it’s about being prepared and protected.
When I left high school I had studied Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus, Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, World History, American History, English, English, English, English, German, Spanish- and guitar, sculpture, painting, welding, woodworking, some electricianing, along with swimming, tennis, flag football, and all the various blood sports allowed at the time.
My schools made do with what we had, and what we didn’t get at school my parents tried their best to cover. School prepared and my parents protected. It was kind of the American way. In my factory job we were always a bit behind the curve because preparation cost money, but I was able to land on my feet because the UAW protected me.
But Mitt, you don’t seem to see any of this picture. All you see is the pot of money. You don’t see the schools erected proudly in 1933, trying to house the future of American civilization under leaky ceilings and walls too thick to accomodate wifi. Or the dearth of internet access in homes and the defacto loss of connection to a stable present, let alone a promising future. You don’t see deep, debilitating hunger or the scourge of drugs. You don't see how a community’s protections taken away creates an inability to prepare and protect their children.
You don’t see the creeping neglect that is the lasting legacy of walled expressways dug thirty feet deep through the middle of thriving neighborhoods that forever divided white from black, money from poverty, life from life.
You don’t see the desiccation of purpose that resulted from a devastated community. You see money. Lots of money. Wasted on kids who will never be able to scale the thirty foot walls that keep them from getting to the other side. Lives wasted because they have no art, no music, no welding or woodshop in their lives. No connection to the world they inhabit. No footholds, no ladders, no wings. No hope. No purpose.
And you principally blame us, the teachers, and the teacher unions. You call us dinosaurs, obstructionists. But neither you nor Betsy DeVos have ever set foot in one of our schools or our communities, you’ve never seen what we’ve seen, or heard what we’ve heard. (It would break your heart) You haven’t watched us try to teach 30 kids in a room with twenty-five desks using twenty books with pages missing. You haven’t seen us feed the hungry or clothe the poorly clothed, quietly and without notice.
But boy did you spot that pile of cash quickly enough. Just sitting there. Wasted.
So Mitt, please don’t feed me that stale slice of pie that smells like promise but tastes like lies. That pie filled with low wage, at-will workers, a pie without after school programs, or adequate supplies. A pie offering neither flavor nor sustenance. If you want to help the kids and fix the system, I’ll help you. But I won’t let you just give everything away and call it reform.
You see Mitt, education isn’t about who gets the money. And who doesn’t.
Education is about hope, about possibility, about learning to climb- and learning to fly. It’s all about the children and schools and families and neighborhoods.
And it occurs to me that there is one message missing from your endorsement- any mention of children. Yes, you quote some tired old statistic about class size that some underpaid staffer dug up for you, but you never really mention how you, or Betsy DeVos, are going to help children succeed.
It’s clear that neither you nor she have any regard for public education. It is also entirely too clear that all you see is a big pot of dollars being wasted on schools that still use coal to heat in the winter, and swelter in the Chicago (or your name here) summers. You neither believe in nor show any encouragement for a resurgent public education system, just as you didn’t believe in or encourage the resurgent American auto industry in 2008.
You saw a pot of money. Money not yours. Money wasted. And people who, for whatever reason, didn’t deserve to have it.
But sorry Mitt, you can’t have this pot. Not yet. Not if we have any say in the matter. Because, (and this is the gorilla, the elephant..) It’s actually our children’s money- it’s their hope, their possibility. It’s their money and their schools, some of which will be proudly erected in 2017, and 2018 and beyond.
It’s their money to use for thirty foot ladders, and child-sized wings. It’s their money to use to build a bridge to an American ideal, fostered by a universal public education, free of commerce or corporation, free from outside influence or coercion. It’s both their preparedness and their protection.
And Mitt, you simply don’t get it.