Well, my head exploded last night and I lay the blame at the feet of Democrats and Republicans. In fact, Betsy DeVos actually came out of the night seeming like one of the nicest people in the room. Seeing as Elizabeth Warren didn’t even have the grace to shake DeVos’ hand after the hearing, it’s a good thing none of us had children in the room hoping to learn from the grown ups about the proper ways to behave. And the partisanship. Really, Sen. Lamar? They can’t ask another round of questions? It’s not reasonable for them to want the paperwork done before the hearing? We get that you are the "grand poobah" on the HELP (Health, Eduction, Labor and Pensions) committee but does that mean you give up your inalienable right to common sense? We, the people, actually want rigorous questioning of all cabinet picks, though we’d prefer it a bit heavier on the thoughtful questioning and lighter on the self serving games of gotcha. https://twitter.com/citizenstewart/status/821524543084908549 Really, Liz Warren? You shame someone for never having needed a student loan? Would have been fun to do a quick survey of who on your committee has. I can promise you that my Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse—a prep school graduate and sends his own kids to private high school for over $50,000 a year—hasn’t. But he’s too busy eating a sandwich during the hearing and railing on about climate change and junk science to notice his own hypocrisy. In fact, he pretended—up there on live television—to be a charter supporter in his home state of Rhode Island. Ummm. No.
Let the record show he has stood with the unions at every turn and that he recently shut parents out of his own “education stakeholder” meeting. Go back to your sandwich, Sheldon. Betsy DeVos talked about student outcomes being far more important than our delivery system of education. Check. She believes in empowering parents to make choices. Check. She is adamant that one-size-fits all approaches do not work. Check. And she values career and technical education and trades as noble professions that will allow more Americans to prosper in the coming years. Check. She seemed unprepared on some issues fore sure—though it was hard to tell in a few instances when she was being interrupted, scolded and then blindsided with a quick pivot from growth scores to conversion therapy. Al Franken is known for being a jerk so no surprise there. But at least he shook Betsy’s hand after it was all over. https://twitter.com/citizenstewart/status/821584639378722817 Even Patty Murray who has always seemed above the fray was uncharacteristically snippy.
Well, if I only get one more question, it’s going to be one you won’t like.
DeVos answered that one (about sexual assault) the right way so bummer on the confirmation bias front. In Murray’s defense, it has to be maddening to be told over and over by your committee chair that, because of some mysterious precedent that doesn’t exist, the committee will not be allowed to ask any more questions of the person likely to become the next education secretary of these United States. So she gets a pass. Plus, it was kind of her "Megyn Kelly moment" and every confirmation hearing is better (or at least more interesting) when it has one of those.
Children and Families Are Exhausted
The sad reality is that our elected leaders see children’s futures as an opportunity for theater. And that is true for the most liberal and the most conservative members of Congress. But for the American people who need schools to be better now, it’s exhausting. No surprise that most choose to tune it all out. Who can blame them? So while each side trades in victory laps and juvenile memes today, parents will continue to wait. Millions of parents kissed their children goodbye this morning and sent them to a school that isn’t good enough. For some, the issue is unrelenting mediocrity. For others, it’s far more dire. They worry about safety and whether or not their children are learning to read. They worry about low expectations and they fear that the impact of those who don’t believe their children will amount to much. They see the power of stereotypes, the disparity in how discipline is handled, the chaos. Betsy DeVos, for all her imperfections, seemed to be the only one in the room with that concern front of mind yesterday. She didn’t give a star performance and there’s no doubt, she should have been much more solid on some issues of huge import, including special education law and the issue of guns in schools. But she also got peppered with more than a few asinine questions that absolutely didn’t move the ball forward for students or parents. And sadly, that was by design. People will make excuses and justify bad behavior by pointing to Trump as the cause of the partisanship and polarization. That is a total cop out. We have an obligation to be better than our President-elect, to rise above his juvenile behavior and divisive language and to focus on what matters: better outcomes for children. So, let’s get the grizzly bear jokes and gifs out of our systems. There is serious work ahead and we owe it to America’s children to be part of it.
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...