Education may not have been a central focus for Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington and the supportive marches and rallies across the country, but neither was it missing from the agenda.
I know for a fact that many of the people who gathered at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis were teachers, parents and other avid supporters of public education. And some of the best signs at the marches mocked Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education, for her comment about schools needing guns to protect children from grizzly bears.
The solidarity exhibited at the marches and rallies is important, because it’s going to take more than education advocates to push back against the school privatization agenda that Trump and DeVos apparently plan to push. People who believe in justice for women, children, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people and others will have to work together for the next four years and beyond.
Trump said during the campaign that he wants to spent $20 billion in federal funds for school vouchers, which pay tuition for students to attend private schools, including religious schools. DeVos, a Michigan billionaire and Republican activist, has long pushed for vouchers and religious schools and fought against teachers’ unions and even accountability for charter schools.
Democratic senators made a good start at DeVos’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. Al Franken exposed that the nominee didn’t seem to know the difference between proficiency and growth on standardized tests. Tim Kaine and Patty Murray revealed her lack of familiarity with federal civil rights law protecting students with disabilities. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders hammered her inexperience with higher education and student loans.
The panel’s vote on DeVos’ confirmation has been delayed until Jan. 31 to give senators more time to review steps she plans to take to avoid ethical conflicts.
But Democrats are a minority in the Senate, and they can do only so much. If Trump and DeVos are to be blocked on their education agenda, it will require citizens working to win over Republican senators – like Indiana’s Todd Young, who sits on the HELP committee.
That’s why Saturday’s marches and rallies were so encouraging. At every event, the consistent theme seemed to be: This is just the beginning. If you want to prevent the damage Trump and his cohorts could do to our country, you need to get involved and stay involved. Call and write your representatives. Support the groups that matter. Work on election campaigns. Even run for office.
I’ve been around a long time, and Saturday’s Indiana Statehouse rally was one of the most inspirational events I’ve experienced – not for the way it made me feel but for potential it seemed to contain. Yes, some of the speeches were inspiring, especially those by Rabbi Sandy Sasso, the Rev. Suzanne Wille and political activist Dana Black. But what was truly remarkable was being part of that huge crowd – more than 10,000 people, by my estimate – determined to build an inclusive nation.
DeVos pushes a vision of radical school choice, in which the educational marketplace reigns supreme and families are consumers who compete to get the best deal they can. Saturday’s marches and rallies sent a clear message that we are better than that, and there’s room at the table for everyone.