Of course, when you have any transition of power in our nation’s highest office, such as the one we had that shocked so many last November, every cabinet pick will be scrutinized and debated by many who happen to espouse a different color than the one who won the nation’s top political prize.
And, that includes the posts that, while important, really aren’t considered vital to most. One of those picks was that of the secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.
As for the importance of the position, I’m guessing that, despite her advocacy of private and profit-generating charter schools in the past and the impact that may have on public schools, where my career was spent over three decades in three different school systems from 1973 through 2005, DeVos’ impact on the day-to-day public-school experience, I’m guessing, especially within the four cinder-block walls of a typical classroom, will be minimal.
As is the case for many presidential appointments, especially for the lesser profile posts, those tabbed are often selected more for political reasons than for their qualifications. In DeVos’ case, that’s especially true, given the fact that she really has no experience in public schools. As a student, she attended private schools in Holland, Michigan, and, as an adult, never has she held a post either as teacher or administrator in a public school.
And, while I don’t think we have to worry about her ever assuming the nation’s top position, because the secretary of education is 15th in line of succession to the presidency, I also don’t think those teachers who do our public school’s heavy lifting within their classrooms have much to worry about when it comes to DeVos’ influencing what goes on day in, day out.
Examining my own time at Perry, Allen East and St. Marys Memorial, I didn’t even have a secretary of education supposedly helping me out until my eighth year in and third school system. When someone named Shirley Hufstedler became the first, I really can’t recall anything she did that helped me teach my people the proper way to phrase a thesis idea in a five-paragraph argumentative essay or how to drive home the intricacies of, for my money, the single most neglected and abused of all the punctuation marks, the apostrophe. As a matter of fact, not ever having been all that political by nature, I’m pretty certain I wasn’t even aware she’d taken the job.
As for the rest of the names of the 10 secretaries of education who followed Hufstedler, and I won’t bore you with all the names, the only one I’d even heard of when I looked at the list was William Bennett, and he was known to me, I think, more for his writings as a conservative author and for his one-time role as our nation’s drug czar in Bush 41’s administration.
Additionally, when it came to anyone who occupied the rungs on the education ladder above me at the state level, I also just didn’t feel any state superintendent or state school board member had much impact on me. The only name I can even recall was a guy named Franklin B. Walter, and that was only because I twice received an award as an honored educator of Auglaize County and saw his name on the plaques.
In education, I believed then as I do now, the more local the influence, the more relevant it is. I will always be grateful for the superintendent-principal tandems that respected my methods and believed in my direction enough to have my back when there were some seeds of discord scattered by students and, at times, parents who thought I was too demanding or had too lofty of expectations. From Allen East’s Jim Barton and Jim Bogner to the pairs of Frank Dennings and Quent Clark and, later, Paul Blaine and Dan Griffin at St. Marys Memorial, their support made my job easier.
However, having said that, they had their jobs to do, and I had mine, so not a one of them ever showed up at my classroom door to help me teach the difference between a gerund and a present participle or to take half the pile of the most recent compositions to lessen my load nor did I ever show up at theirs to help devise a strategy for the next levy or examine curriculum needs or discipline a misguided student.
So, to the teachers of today, the challenge for you remains the same, to run your own programs and teach your charges and control your own classrooms when each class-commencing bell rings.
And, some woman named Betsy DeVos can’t really help you once those you’ve pledged to teach look to the front of the room where you’re standing. However, with that comes the good news, and that is I don’t really think she’ll hinder you either.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.