Did all y’all catch Betsy DeVos’s — Donald Trump’s pick as Secretary of Education — confirmation hearings?
Not only did DeVos need Al Franken — a former Saturday Night Live star — to explain the difference between proficiency and growth to her, she had no real idea how IDEA works, she suggested that she supports privatizing public schools, and she used the threat of grizzly bears as reason enough to question federal laws banning guns on school grounds.
Really. Grizzly bears. Look it up.
But the thing that should concern us the most about DeVos is her longtime support of vouchers — which allow parents to use public monies to send their children to private and religious schools — as a reform strategy.
The simple truth is that every American should oppose vouchers.
Here’s why: Public schools do more than educate our kids. They provide opportunities for students to share experiences with people who are drastically different from them. Rich students work side by side with students from poor neighborhoods. Gay students befriend kids who are straight. Deeply religious students meet atheists. Children of immigrants learn with children whose ancestors have lived in America for generations. And every kid interacts with peers of a thousand different colors and cultures — perhaps for the first time in their lives.
Do you have any idea how important those experiences are?
One of the fundamental purposes of education has always been to prepare students for effective participation in a democratic society. “Effectively participating in a democratic society” depends on our willingness to believe in the power of “the common good” — and believing in the power of the common good can only start when we recognize that others see the world differently than we do.
THAT’s what’s missing from the kinds of homogeneous schools that vouchers promote. The risk of homogeneous schoolhouses is that students will study in intellectual bubbles — attending classes with kids who look and live just like they do, unaware that their core ideas aren’t always embraced by the people they are sharing this planet with. Sure, homogeneous is easy and safe. After all, there’s no need for compromise and no source of external challenge when everyone thinks just like you do. But it’s not reality.
We live in a fractured nation, y’all. You know that.
Instead of looking for common ground, we concentrate our energies and our efforts on the ideas that divide us. We shout one another down in person and online. We heap scorn on anyone that we see as different. We use our political power to pass laws that openly discriminate against anyone who doesn’t live like we do — and we elect leaders from the fringes who would sooner shut down the government than compromise with people on the other end of the political spectrum.
Becoming united again can only start when we find value in others — and for kids, finding value in others can be reinforced in the beautiful diversity of our nation’s public schools.
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