Our unesteemed Secretary of (anti) Education, Betsy DeVos, recently trash-talked American schools by claiming we haven’t changed since the middle of the 20th century. While there are some things that haven’t changed enough in that time (see below), her claim about “American education” was overly broad and mean-spirited. But then, she’s never been a fan of public education. DeVos further insulted the intelligence of teachers and students by trying to illustrate her point using a posed, stock photo of a classroom to represent a reality she doesn’t understand.
Does this look familiar? Students lined up in rows. A teacher in front of a blackboard. Sit down; don’t talk; eyes up front. Wait for the bell. Walk to the next class. Everything about our lives has moved beyond the industrial era. But American education largely hasn’t. #SXSWEDU pic.twitter.com/kyy2r7bTud
— Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVosED) March 6, 2018
Now ask yourself: if you were the putative leader of a school system – or more precisely, a department serving many school systems – and if you cared about the performance and improvement of those systems, would you insult them in public remarks or social media, and try to shame people into changing? Well, if so, you wouldn’t be a very effective leader. Real leaders build up people and organizations; they inspire growth and improvement by celebrating and highlighting success, they help articulate and realize a vision of a better way, they provide resources and clear obstacles.
To show DeVos or anyone else what she’s missing, I’ve put together a slideshow at the end of this blog post, using a variety of pictures from my visits to classrooms in all kinds of schools all over California. All of the shots were taken while I was working on Capturing The Spark: Inspired Teaching, Thriving Schools. The goal of the book was to inspire even more teachers and schools to make positive changes by providing positive examples of what’s already happening.
However, as noted at the outset, I’m not trying to argue that all of American education is reflected in the positive images I offer below. Rafranz Davis made an important point about the DeVos tweet and the reactions to it.
I’m no defender of DeVos but let’s be real, stock photo use or not/experience or not…That image is still a reality in plenty of classrooms and students of color or poverty are typically the ones sitting in those seats or in an office for not complying. That’s real.
— Rafranz Davis (@RafranzDavis) March 8, 2018
Davis’ tweet definitely forced me to apply the brakes in my own response to DeVos. Davis is right. I’ve seen that too – in my own school, and in schools I’ve visited. American schools have evolved significantly, and we have vital work left to do. But if we’re going to strengthen and improve public education, if we’re going to be honest about the nature of the problems in terms of pedagogy and systemic racism, our best hope is to engage with real leaders and educators like Rafranz Davis, and to call out the misinformation of Betsy DeVos for what it is: an intentional effort to erode confidence in public schools as a pretext for privatization.
Enjoy the pictures, and find some inspiration to make this kind of teaching and learning even more widespread!