On February 7, 2017, Mike Pence cast his first tie breaking vote in the senate to appoint Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. Despite ardent opposition, if 1.5 million calls a day to the Senate reflects the majority of peoples feelings about her as the Education Secretary, Pence’s vote made it official. Education is about to be “made great again,” per guns to fight off grizzly bears in classrooms, “high quality alternative” schools replacing public education, and an ever-increasing amount of debt for students pursuing higher degrees outside of the K-12 system.
What are activists to do? Heck, what can common people or parents afraid for their child’s education do?
There is no easy solution. When the federal government fails us with an appointment like DeVos, we can turn towards our states, our local governments, and our neighbors for support. If you are lucky enough to live in a state like California, which is challenging Trump on many fronts from immigration issues to establishing policies to make voucher schools face huge obstacles, then there’s a lot being done without your input.
But every state isn’t California, nor do they have the resources to oppose the federal government as California does. On a state and local level, there are still things you can do even if they didn’t pan out on the national level to stop DeVos’s appointment.
1. If you are a student, start a school walkout in response to DeVos. And not just in response to her appointment. If she’s to remain our Education Secretary, we have to hold her accountable. Every time we disagree vehemently with one of her actions, we have the First-Amendment right to peacefully assemble and stage a walkout. You can form a club or committee on campus as well as network with other local campuses to not only react rapidly, but to react massively.
2. If you are a parent, don’t send your children to charter schools. That’s not as easy as it sounds, especially if local schools are underperforming, have a heavy police presence, or are participating in the FBI’s Countering Violent Extremism program. If local public schools are threatened with shutdowns, new charters might be one of most feasible options as the next public school could be too far away to be a viable option. But the best way to make sure public schools do stay open and to counter DeVos’s actions against them is to keep the kids enrolled there. If public schools have the numbers, they can’t be forced to shut down (at least that’s the hope).
3. If you are a community member, help your local schools as much as possible. Parent or not, having an educated populace helps communities in innumerable ways. Has the state cut funding so the janitorial staff has to go? Volunteer to help clean the school. Have teaching assistants been let go? See if there’s any help your local school might need in the classroom. Have a few bucks to spare? Ask a local teacher what supplies they are missing in the classroom. The list can go on and on. If you’re able to help in any way the schools need it, now more than ever.
4. If you hold a degree or have specific expertise, lend your knowledge to your local community as well as online. Get together with other like-minded community members and start cooperative alternatives to schools to make sure children in the K-12 system are still getting the basics. Heck, you don’t need a Bachelor’s degree to help a kid with math or to learn U.S. history. The more the local curriculum suffers, the more it’s up to the community to ensure that kids are taught the critical skills necessary not only to navigate life, but to engaged effectively with their community both on the local and national level.
5. If you work in education in any capacity, compile a list of things you need help with from your community in case someone asks if you need help. It’s also good to know your school’s volunteering guidelines. If you have lesson plans that you are no longer able to teach or are not sure if you’ll be able to teach, reach out to your community and share them with someone interested in offering an alternative to DeVos’s alternatives. If you can, assist students with their walkouts and support mass demonstrations on campus. You might also help coordinate your local teacher’s union. That only adds to the mass movements we need to counter potentially flawed education mandates.
6. If you are a college student, do your best to avoid debt. As a loan-encumbered Masters student, I appreciate that this isn’t easy, nor always possible. DeVos is not going to make our current higher education loan burden any easier. Prepare for more ramen than you can stand, bulk bags of rice and beans from a food bank, and sharing a bedroom with two, three, or four people for the foreseeable future. But the most important thing to remember is that your education is important — not just for you, but for your community. When you are cold, hungry, and reading a textbook that costs more than your rent, don’t forget that. It’s hard sometimes to appreciate the benefits of education when days and nights like that are endless. But the very pursuit of higher education in this day and age is an act of activism that can be passed onto future generations, so hang in there.
7. If the above do not apply to you or if you don’t fit into any of these categories, there’s still much that you can do. In addition to taking to the streets when mass demonstrations and walkouts happen, you have the right to call, write, and email your representatives. The United States Legislature has failed us, but we still have state and local elected officials that could possibly soften the blows handed down from above. And, most importantly, even if you aren’t a parent, you probably know one. Ask what you can do to support them. Ask students and teachers what they need in the classroom. Donate food to your local colleges and food banks near schools for hungry students.
When all else fails, we have each other. That is what solidarity is about — relying on your neighbor when all else seems lost. DeVos’s appointment seems like one of those times for us engaged in education, but with direct action and local support, we can counter her actions on the state and local level.