Tag Archives: educational policy and politics

Betsy DeVos and the Acton Institute Celebrate School Privatization and Free-Market Capitalism

(Betsy DeVos, like many ultra-wealthy people in the United States today, has the money to buy her own ideological echo chamber)

Diane Ravitch's blog

Thanks to reader and teacher-blogger David Taylor for sharing this post from the far-far-far right Acton Institute.

The Acton Institute will hold its annual dinner on October 18 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The keynote speaker is Betsy DeVos. There will be no protestors. She will be speaking to her tiny little claque of extremist libertarians, who are exulting these days about their great strides in rolling back the New Deal, shredding any safety net for the poor, getting rid of unions, eliminating pensions, and privatizing government programs and services. Betsy is their hero, because she has not only funded the free-market cause (and the Acton Institute) but has jumped into the arena to put her reactionary agenda into the mainstream.

The post includes the names and connections among some of Betsy’s friends.

Like J.C. Huizenga. Time for a personal anecdote. Many years ago, I was invited to lecture at Calvin…

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Betsy at Harvard: She is Unaccustomed to This Kind of Rude Reception

(I always like to end the work week with some good news….)

Diane Ravitch's blog

Having lived her life in a billionaire bubble, Betsy DeVos expects deference. She did not get it at the Kennedy zdchool at Harvard last night.

Protestors unfurled banners and raised their fists as Betsy tried to speak about the glories of school choice.

One said “Our Students Are Not for Sale. Another said, “White Supremacy.” Another said “Dark Money.”

When she asked in her speech whether more money would solve the problems, a line that must have been greeted with applause when she spoke at ALEC, a student shouted out “YES.” This was not the answer she expected.

Betsy thought she was in a safe space, given that the event was sponsored by pro-choice scholars and the Koch brothers and the Gates Foundation, but she forgot that the audience was students.

Students were warned that they would be evicted if they were disruptive but that didn’t stop the protestors.


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Nancy Bailey: DeVos’ “Let’s Get Rid of Public Schools” Tour

(Diane Ravitch continues to cover this dim ideologue, for which I thank her.)

Diane Ravitch's blog

Nancy Bailey valiantly followed Betsy DeVos’s national tour, from a distance.

Her message everywhere was the same: Public schools suck! Private schools are awesome!

In public schools, children sit in desks arranged in rows. In private schools, well, maybe the same but it doesn’t matter.

In public schools, children hate going to school. In private schools, they are enthusiastic and happy.

This woman is an ideologue. She knows nothing and learns nothing. Whatever she proposes is meant to damage public schools and communities.

Education is a learning profession, and she is not open to learning anything!

We will wait her out, fight her at every turn, and return to the task of improving and strengthening public schools for all children, a concept unknown to her.

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Betsy DeVos and Her Family Are Funding the Republican Candidate for Governor in Virginia

(Remember Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” sketches on Saturday Night Live all those years ago? That’s who Betsy DeVos is, only not funny and quite dangerous.)

Diane Ravitch's blog

Politico reports that the DeVos family is funding the campaign of the Republican candidate for Governor in Virginia.

According to Politico:

TEACHERS UNIONS TARGET GILLESPIE IN VA GOVERNOR’S RACE: Teachers unions are stepping up their opposition to Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie – and they’re using an emerging tactic on the left: linking him to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. National and local union leaders said on Tuesday that they would be mobilizing against Gillespie by highlighting his ties to DeVos, as they back his Democratic opponent Ralph Northam. Gillespie has accepted more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from the DeVos family. “Ed Gillespie can dress it up in any which way he wishes to, but the bottom line is he is a clone of Betsy DeVos. The agenda that Gillespie is pushing for is an agenda that hurts kids,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

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Department of Education Will Continue to Spend More Than $1 Million Per Month to Protect DeVos

(Other than to wonder why a Secretary of Education needs this level of protection, there’s really nothing to add to this post from Diane Ravitch’s Blog)

Diane Ravitch's blog

Politico reports that the Department of Education will renew the agreement with the U.S. Marshalls Service to protect Secretary Betsy DeVos, which cost nearly $8 million for six months. This occurs at a time when DeVos has enthusiastically endorsed budget cuts of billions to the Department’s programs. One program that she agreed to cut is a $10 million subsidy to the Special Olympics. Should the Dartment pay for her security detail or for opportunities for students with disabilities to demonstrate their athletic accomplishments? She is a billionaire. Why doesn’t she pay for her own security or ask her brother Erik Prince to send over a detail of his mercenaries?

“DEVOS, U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE TO RENEW SECURITY AGREEMENT: The U.S. Marshals Service and the Education Department plan to renew an agreement to continue providing protective services for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a spokesman for the Marshals Service tells Pro Education’s Caitlin…

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On “Special Education”

(This is basically a rant I composed at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. I’ve been going through my overflowing drafts folder in an attempt to clean it out and find things I need. I’d planned, when I located this, to trash it. However, on rereading it, I believe it’s worth publishing.)

On Facebook I follow both the National Association of Special Education Teachers and Disability Scoop because they are both excellent sources of professional news, almost all of it research useful for pedagogical practice, for those of us who work with struggling and diverse learners. Disability Scoop posted a story on June 4 of this year on the outrage that ensued over  a brewery in Galt, California, near Sacramento, that its owners named “Special Ed’s.”

Personally and professionally, I avoid playing the outrage market. It is, by definition, volatile. It also, to risk extending this metaphor ad nauseam, tends to return high dividends of annoyance, self-righteousness, and stress, and at best modest dividends of intellectual snobbery. Outrage is the junk bond of public discourse.

So outrage, most of the time, gets us nowhere in discussions of important issues. I don’t mean to say that I have no problems with or objections to Special Ed’s. With marketing slogans like “tard-tested” and “take the short bus to special beer,” the owners of Special Ed’s arguable deserved every syllable of opprobrium and shame to which the public subjected them. Ridiculing the less fortunate, whatever their affliction, isn’t cute, and it is clearly bad business.

But the comeuppance that Special Ed’s earned notwithstanding, this whole story left me even more perplexed about a term I’ve always found troubling, even when I was a public school student myself: “special education.” In all the years I’ve worked with troubled kids and struggling learners, I’ve been ill-at-ease with the term. I’m not sure exactly why this is, but I suspect it is that special education–and I endeavor to be charitable here to the bureaucrats who contrived it–is functionally useless as a term of art. What it says, in my neither humble nor disinterested opinion, is that all students who struggle with learning are the same, i.e. “special.”

And here I divulge my prejudice against the word “special.” To me it is one of class of adjectives that the legendary New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell, while still a journeyman writer with several New York City newspapers in the 1920s and 1930s, trenchantly called a “tinsel word.” My own instincts about English usage instruct me that “special” has a relatively narrow definition and range of use.

Yet it doesn’t. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2003), the lexicon of choice for Mark’s Text Terminal, gives three definitions of the noun, and five for the adjective. At the top of the adjectives’ meanings in “distinguished by some unusual quality, esp. being in some way superior <our special blend>.”

If you work, or have worked, with “special education” students, and you have sought to divine their potential, chances are you’ve found something–a skill, a method of inquiry, an enthusiasm or obsession, or a way of thinking–that in these students, particularly when compared with their “general” (another revealingly problematic modifier, to be sure) education peers, appears superior. The special education population in schools is, then, by some measures, superior to the general education population.

So it may well be that I take issue with the inherently hierarchical view of our students we commit to when we embrace the opposition between “inferior” and “superior.” Perhaps this reflects my postmodern education and the Foucaultian problematic of binary oppositions. Over the years as I’ve watched troubled and struggling learners, I learned to appreciate that learning takes place along a continuum and is governed by a complex mixture of interest, ability, psychological states on a day-to-day basis, the previous night’s sleep, a child’s relationship with the adults in his or her life, as well as his or her siblings and peers, and willingness to take risks in an environment–the classroom–where struggle, failure and, consequently, alienation occur.

Considering all this, and to risk charge as one of the political correctniks who are destroying America, I believe that the term “special education” carries with it a negative connotation. Certainly the students I serve resent it, and associate it with being “retarded,” (a word that I, along with my fellow purveyors of political correctness would just as soon not hear used as a pejorative), and avoid the term like the plague. The fact is, and I expect that most teachers who work with struggling learners (i.e. “special education students”) have heard objections from their students to this term. Not because they don’t need support in school–but because they would prefer not to bear the stigma of requiring “special education” services.

Diagnostic terms in general tend to reduce human experience and are epistemologically troublesome. At the same time, diagnostic terms supply practitioners with convenient and mostly useful terms for understanding and dealing with complex mental phenomena. I don’t for a moment dispute the utility of diagnostic terms, whatever their epistemological frailties may be.

“Special education” taken as a diagnostic term is not particularly useful to practitioners because it reports so little about a students’ needs. (Aside: from time to time, I entertain the idea of pursuing national board certification in special education, and I have found it interesting that the second benchmark to on the road to this distinction is “Principles of IEP Development.” Infer what you like from that, but to my ears, this is a call to develop precise terms to deal with the learning issues with which our charges arrive at our classroom doors.) There are plenty of reasons to oppose this term, if none other than mitigate the sting of it to our students. However, any teacher who has worked with struggling learners knows all too well that a student who arrives in our classroom with emotional disturbance has different needs than a student who suffers a learning disability. “Special education” fails to do justice to complexities of our jobs, and in any case these kinds of things occur, like autism, along a spectrum–or a continuum if you like. It is preposterous to think that when a school psychologist identifies a student in need of “special education” services that he or she will need the same professional services as the previously or subsequently so-identified student. In other words, the term “special education” with its corrosive connotations in out students’ minds, is epistemologically useless; it beggars precision.

So it’s time to send “special education,” whether or not it is used as a modifier before “student” to the rubbish bin of history. There it can repose with similar misbegotten terms that front for bad ideas about classifying the human condition–for instance phrenology.

So I humbly submit for your consideration some alternative, albeit general, terms to replace “special education.” Once again, I do understand that I risk destroying the American polity with political correctness, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. For starters, in terms of naming departments, I think “learning support” or “supported learning” as a compound modifier for “department” should replace “special education” posthaste. Some other general terms we might consider for use in our professional discipline might be “delayed processor,” “diverse processor,” “diverse learner,” “struggling learner,” “alienated learner,” “apathetic learner,” and “supported learner.” These are, as I say, general, and of course they are provisional. There would have to be some sort of consensus on adoption of new words to replace “special education.” These terms, I like to think, confer agency on out students in a way “special education” does not. Moreover, bullies, self-conscious struggling students, and brewery owners lose a term of ridicule,

Eventually, teachers working with struggling learners really ought to have something like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which psychiatrists use for diagnostics–but perhaps more concise.

Back at Special Ed’s Brewery, this story concludes on a happy note. After meeting with with several struggling learners and their parents, the owners and proprietors of Special Ed’s, Edward and Cheryl Mason, came to understand why people found the name of their establishment offensive. Subsequently, they changed the name of Special Ed’s to River Rock Brewery. (Incidentally, these aren’t folks without a sense of humor: they arrived at that name because of the number of rocks thrown through the windows of their building in the wake of all this). If I find myself in Galt, California, in Sacramento County, I’ll be sure to stop by the River Rock Brewery for a pint, and I’ll tip my server handsomely.


The Education Bloggers Network

Mark’s Text Terminal is now part of  The Education Bloggers Network, about which I am particularly excited. What is the Education Bloggers Network? The Network was founded by Jonathan Pelto, who sent me this conspectus of its mission:

The Education Bloggers Network:

The Education Bloggers Network is an informal confederation of more than 230 bloggers who are dedicated to supporting public education, pushing back the corporate education reform industry and their agenda, while ensuring that the voices of parents, teachers and other educators are part of the national, state and local debate about education policy.

While many members of the Network have their own blogs sites, some write commentary pieces for national, regional and local newspapers while others use their Facebook or other social media platforms to write about education issues.

Like the Committees of Correspondence leading up to America’s War for Independence, education bloggers work alone, in groups and as a collective to educate, persuade and mobilize parents, teachers, education advocates and citizens to stand up and speak out against those who seek to undermine public education, privatize public schools and turn classrooms into little more than Common Core testing factories.

The Education Bloggers Network was developed in conjunction with the publication and roll-out of Diane Ravitch’s best-selling book, “Reign of Error.”    It was founded and is managed by Jonathan Pelto, an education advocate, former member of the Connecticut House of Representatives, communications strategist and education blogger. 

The Education Bloggers Network has become a vibrant community of advocacy journalists, investigative bloggers and public education activists working to make sure that citizens have accurate and timely information about public education issues at the local, state and federal level.

I thank Jonathan Pelto for extending an invitation to join this distinguished group of scholars, educators, journalists, writers and activists.