Trump and Ravitch Both Miss the Point On Sec. Education Appointment

Let me tell you what Diane Ravitch (one of the nation’s most vocal opponents of a parent’s right to chose a high quality education for their child) has in common with Donald Trump, president-elect of the United States.  They both agree that Betsy DeVos should be the next Secretary of Education.  And that shows that Ravitch and Trump have the same fundamental misunderstanding about the realities of education for poor and working class Black families across this country.  Neither Trump or Ravitch get that in our communities, school choice is not just a policy debate, school choice is a lifeline, an ark of safety and sometimes an only hope.

I bet Diane Ravitch thought that she was being clever when she wrote on her blog the other day that she was “endorsing” Betsy DeVos for the cabinet post to which president-elect Trump seems poised to appoint her.  I bet she thought that her words were on the pulse of the moment, amplifying the steady drumbeat of concern, anger and opposition toward the incoming administration.  I bet that Ravitch thought that Black parents who read her words would stand up and applaud while education reformers (especially those who lean Democratic) would turn-tail and run away, heads hanging in shame.

Well, I am a Black parent and I’ll withhold any applause.  And I am an education reformer, but I am I not afraid of Diane Ravitch’s words nor made to feel ashamed by Donald Trump’s actions.  Here’s what I know; neither Trump or Ravitch are very good representatives for my cause.  The two of them have more in common with one another than either them have in common in with me.  And Ravitch’s blog proves my point better than anything that I can say.

Here’s why Ravitch said that she was endorsing DeVos for Secretary of Education:

I oppose privatization. I oppose turning public schools over to private corporations. I oppose for-profit schooling. I oppose schools run by for-profit management.

I support community-based, democratically controlled public schools, staffed by certified and well-prepared teachers. I believe that most parents like their public schools and don’t want them to be privatized…I endorse DeVos not because I want her ideas to prevail but because I want them [be] exposed to the clear light of day and rejected because they are wrong for democracy, wrong for children, and wrong for education.

Do you notice what is missing from this statement?  Most parents notice it right off the bat.  There’s nothing in it about the education of children.  There’s nothing about the futures that are being cultivated (or not cultivated) everyday in classrooms across this country.  There is nothing there about the lives that hang daily in the balance in cities like Chicago where I grew up and am currently raising my three little children.  The omission of even a single thought about children speaks volumes to me; volumes of deeply offensive language.  The statement wreaks of a politico who has deeply held beliefs about how schools should be governed, but doesn’t give a damn about how effective they are at actually educating children.

I can tell you one thing that ALL parents “like” a heck of a lot more than they “like” their public schools; we like our children.

For me it isn’t about a policy fight, it is about the daily struggle of raising Black children in America…in Chicago.  That is why as a school choice advocate, I couldn’t applaud ANY pick that Donald Trump made for Secretary of Education.  He supports charter schools.  So do I (when those charters provide academically enriching and culturally affirming environments for Black children).  He supports the expansion of voucher programs and tax credits for private education.  I’m in favor of that also because it widens parent options even further.  But, how can you offer high quality school options to Black youths in one breath and in the next breath say that you’re going to give police officers carte blanche to racially profile, stop and harass those same Black youths on the street.

See, for me, this is real life.  For Trump, it’s politics.

Why is that such important distinction?  Well, when it is just politics, it doesn’t have to fit together as a tapestry of future possibility woven from those beautiful strands of justice, equity and progress.  In politics, these types of stances need only be checked off of a list of party priorities.  In my world when we lose these battles, human potential is wasted, lives end too early, generations are lost.  When it’s just politics, the loser goes home a safer (usually whiter) community than I’ve ever known.  They are angry, but they go home.

This is why I believe in, and have dedicated my professional life to building grassroots efforts to demand high quality school choice for Black families.  This whole issue is a war of words between the likes of Diane Ravitch and Donald Trump.  But, this battle is being fought in our homes, in our schools and in our communities everyday.  Our children are the innocents who stand be casualties.

If you ask me, Donald Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education and Diane Ravitch’s witty little endorsement of his action both miss the larger picture. Because at the end of the day, this is not about politics and policy; it is about the lives and education of children.

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Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate. Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago. Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.