I’ve handwritten and sent the following to both of my senators. Feel free to share, reproduce, and do the same.
Last week, I took time out of my 30-minute lunch to watch you vote to confirm Elisabeth DeVos as our next Secretary of Education.
Since she was nominated, I was wary. I gathered all the information I could and found that her previous experience was mostly in business; the few times her work was tied to education, outcomes seemed mediocre, at best. Then I watched her confirmation hearing one evening when I was working late at school. Oh, yeah – I’m a teacher. I’m not in any unions (you can read my stance on that on my blog) or anything, because I know that was a big talking point. I watched her flounder and botch answers on federal regulations, student achievement, equality, and student safety. I was appalled. I know local teachers, administrators, and advocates with more experience and know-how than her who are infinitely more deserving of such an esteemed post. I would nominate them for the job if I could – but no one asked me.
Anyway, starting immediately after that hearing, I worked tirelessly to ensure that the events of last Tuesday did not occur. I hand-wrote and mailed letters, made phone calls to all 16 of you and your colleague’s DC and local offices, typed out passionate Facebook posts and tagged friends in other key states, signed petitions, and texted my friends in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. I asked people in person and on the phone to make calls, looking up their senators’ phone numbers to make it that much easier for them. I even went so far as to hashtag my team’s bar trivia name last week, so that #DumpDeVos would be broadcast a minimum of three times to the entire bar.
But you chose not to listen to the unprecedented amount of communication you got urging you to oppose the nomination – not just from me, but from thousands of other constituents. You chose not to think about the kids, teachers, and families that will be affected by this decision. You chose to toe the line and be a party lemming.
In my research, I tried really hard to find anything in support of Ms. DeVos. I Googled; I crowdsourced for opinions or links on Facebook; I asked people face to face. But the only remotely positive messages I could find surrounding her nomination were op-eds written by senators who had already announced their intent to vote to confirm her. (They left me wondering as to their reasons for this blind support, however, as they were vague and repetitive.) Who actually thought that this was a good idea? I am still in the dark about her qualifications for the position. But, terrifying as it is to have a completely inexperienced, rich, white woman in charge of my poor kids of color in public schools, that’s actually not what I’m most frustrated about.
I teach my students about democracy. I teach them how the word itself comes from the Greek “demos” (people) and “kratos” (power) and that it is designated as “rule by many,” how it’s an example of limited government and the power of our government officials is limited by the very fact that we vote for them – they work for us. But it’s hard to maintain my credibility when I also tell them that I’ve spent two solid weeks calling all Texas and DC offices of my two senators before, during, and after school only to receive busy signals or “voice mailbox full” recordings. It’s difficult to admit to them that I’ve had little success: no real conversation, sometimes not even a connection to a messaging system, despite all of the time I’ve spent; tweets and statements from my representatives in support of DeVos in the midst of my desperate campaigning; the slow, grim realization that DeVos’s incredible wealth has allowed her to donate to the campaigns of one too many Republicans and that she will be confirmed, despite my (and thousands of others’!) fight.
So I’m disappointed in you, because you’ve been a very poor example for my students thus far. But I thank you, because you have provided a great lesson in persistence and perseverance. Not getting through to you didn’t stop me; it inspired me to sign up for more action networks, to ask for more daily texts and emails with reminders, news, information, and actionable steps. DeVos’s confirmation has engaged me in politics more than I’ve ever been involved before. I’ve told not only my students but colleagues, too; I’ve taken not only to social media but to the streets!
There’s nothing that cements learning like living it. You’ve provided my students with great point/counterpoint examples of the very government systems they’re studying – inadvertently, I’m sure. But they now know the requirements for running for office, the different levels of government, and myriad ways to engage civically – not just the bare minimum categories and comparisons that can be made among different countries on paper and are required knowledge per our state standards.
I’d like to clarify for you that 100% of my students are Hispanic or Black, and 92% are considered economically disadvantaged. They are the next generation of voters, activists, and politicians, and they are not happy with your lack of empathy or action.
Feel free to respond by mail, email, or phone. You’ll be hearing from me again soon.
Concerned Citizen, Dallas Resident, Teacher
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