Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Protest Against DeVos in Chicago

98 Years Old - Grrr, Baby!
Protest Against DeVos in Chicago: January 31, 2017

When my brother and I traveled down to the “Say No to Betsy DeVos” protest at the Federal Building in Chicago this afternoon, we wondered whether we’d see anyone dressed in a large Grizzly costume.  In fact, we scoured a few blocks on the way to find a costume shop.  You might recall that when asked whether or not schools should be gun-free zones, DeVos cited the likely need for weapons in some cases; for example, like Wyoming where grizzlies are present.  So, that would be a yes?

Arrived at Jackson and Dearborn at 3:30.

No Grizzlies, but a swelling crowd of around three hundred protestors materialized.  DeVos had received a confirmation vote of 12 – 11 hours before in the Committee hearings, a vote split with a dozen Republican Yays, and eleven Democratic Nays.   The full Senate confirmation may fall along the same lines unless the Democrats hold firm in their opposition and several or more Republicans agree with education as a right, not a privilege.  And an Education Secretary who might perhaps understand existing laws to protect students in an educational or academic environment?

The throng of people at the Federal Building grew and the chanting began – rhythmic and forceful: “Education for the masses. Not just for the upper classes.” 

Placards expressed frustration with much more than DeVos.  Some in Arabic opposed the immigration crackdown; others listed the various cabinet choices and one effigy of Trump was carried about as a large puppet.  Note how small the hands are.

Several protestors were arrested for blocking doorways at the Federal Building, and as they came by to be processed, the crowd stood against the windows shouting encouragement. 

You might also recall that Betsy DeVos’ resume for Secretary of Education is spotless; that is, missing any real experience in education.  She has no education degree, no teaching experience, nor any experience working in any school environment.  Indeed, none of her children have ever had any connection to public education.  But she does work hard to generate “for-profit” schools, especially in her home state of Michigan, where she has, according to the Washington Post, been a primary force behind the escalation of low-performing charter schools in urban areas. 

While DeVos may decry the salaries of teachers working in the public school systems, she is not bothered by the superintendents in her advocated charter systems earning $130,000 annually despite no credentials or educational experience.  And with scores showing less than state averages despite skimming the public systems for best candidates.

Such little hands...
“DeVos isn’t an educator, or an education leader. She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance. In fact, she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards and guiding dollars for the nation’s public schools.
“She is, in essence, a lobbyist — someone who has used her extraordinary wealth to influence the conversation about education reform, and to bend that conversation to her ideological convictions despite the dearth of evidence supporting them.”

Near the end of the protest, an authentic “Grizzly” showed up: a 98-year-old Great Grandmother who took the microphone and told the story of her father’s arrival to America with a falsified passport in 1905.  She described her own journey and matriculation from college at no cost because it was in New York at a time when the people voted to allow free and public education for everyone.

“What happened to us?’ she asked the crowd.  “My grandson won’t tell me what he owes for his college education, but I got him to nod yes when I guessed $60,000.  That’s crazy!  This is wrong.  How did we become 99.999% without hope? “

“I’ve seen a lot.  I may be old, I may be 98 years old, but I still have enough fight left for this battle too.”  

Then, the cheers.

Meanwhile, back to DeVos and her husband – and their ersatz-educational get-richer schemes that provide a thin veil of scientific verisimilitude and something that might have been invented by an educational branch of Clockwork Orange: Neurocore.  Neurocore is a growing business in Michigan and Florida offering “time for a mind makeover,” especially for children who are having issues with attention span or diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder or even autism.  Patients are provided a therapeutic kind of conversion therapy which includes watching film and being brought back on task when distracted or uninterested.  Experts in the field find the proclaimed results of Neurocore’s  Dr. Fotuhi unlikely or questionable  Fotuhi rejects such observations.  DeVos, who currently sits on the board of the company, estimates her investments at between $5 and $25 million.

“Sounds like conversion therapy,” my brother shook his head.  Indeed it does, and it seems that Ms. DeVos is not free from that charge either.  Senator Al Franken of Minnesota asked her about her deep past relationships with various religious organizations that use or promote conversion therapy for LGBTH youngsters.  Ms. DeVos denied any direct connection to such practices or the support of such methods, but Politico does identify (as did Franken) $10  million in funding of Focus on Family, “an organization that currently states on its website that, ‘homosexual strugglers can and do change their sexual behavior and identity.’”

Ms. DeVos denied the allegations and retorted that such characterizations did “not accurately reflect those of my family.” 

My brother?
The leaders of the protest demanded that Durbin and Duckworth demand the 30 hours of questioning by each Senator for each of Trump’s candidates in order to know better what kind of character we are placing in such high office.  This is not a “slow down,” the leader shouted; it is their "right under the law.”

Remember, it will take every Democratic vote and a few Republicans to turn this danger to public education away.  Make your call and call someone – relative or friend -  in another state to make theirs as well.   

Call your senators now! Dial 1-855-882-6229, and tell them to reject Betsy DeVos' nomination for secretary of education.

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