Wednesday Reading List: Can #DumpDeVos Become #DumpSessions?

Well, it's official:

After a bruising fight, Betsy DeVos, the billionaire philanthropist and school choice activist, got the votes she needed to become the next U.S. education secretary. It took a historic move to make it happen: a vote from Vice President Mike Pence, who was called in to break a 50-50 tie in the Senate. All of that body’s Democrats voted against DeVos, as did two Republicans ... The vote was historic for more than just Pence’s role. In the two months since President Donald Trump nominated DeVos, the Michigan power broker became his most controversial nominee, attracting more public opposition even than his choices for secretary of state or attorney general. 

That was Sarah Darville from Chalkbeat. We're going now to live footage of American educators reacting to the news:

Most attempts to parse the opposition to #BetsyWithTheGrizzBear focus on the role of organized labor and partisan politics. Those "takes" are missing the point. In appointing someone so flagrantly unqualified, who seems to know little to nothing about actual public education, the president has insulted educators. You can't fake this sort of outpouring, and I would remind cynics on both sides of the aisle what happened when they tried to write-off the Tea Party in 2009.

Liz Willen, writing at The Hechinger Report, thinks that the DeVos debacle signals a new movement towards education activism:

The enormous scrutiny and publicity surrounding the vote have reminded us that education is an issue nearly everyone cares about, although it’s too often overlooked in the coverage of horse-race politics and click-bait stories or obscured by inaccessible acronyms and jargon. Even ardent opponents to DeVos found some reasons to feel heartened ... After the vote, Senator Patty Murray of Washington told her Senate colleagues that the long nights, endless dramatic speeches, tweets and public statements had not been wasted. The vote followed opposition from  teacher organizations, civil rights groups, women’s rights activists, students, centrist think tanks, reform leaders, evangelical Christians, special education advocates. Even some choice proponents joined the protests.

The ragtag group that Willen describes, if it can find a way to work together, could be formidable. That's a big "if," though, as there are significant political, ideological, and tactical divisions within a coalition of that sort. Still, it's no more bizarre than the coalition that has been getting things done in reform for the last twenty years.

One next step for the anti-DeVos coalition could be to organize against Jeff Sessions, whose flagrant racism made him too unpalatable to get a judgeship ... in 1986. The confirmation of Sessions is shaping up to be contentious as well, as Matt Flegenheimer of The New York Times reports:

Republican senators voted on Tuesday to formally silence a Democratic colleague for impugning a peer, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, by condemning his nomination for attorney general while reading a letter from Coretta Scott King. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, had been holding forth on the Senate floor on the eve of Mr. Sessions’s expected confirmation vote, reciting a 1986 letter from Mrs. King that criticized Mr. Sessions’s record on civil rights ... Democrats planned to hold the floor into the wee hours of Wednesday to protest Mr. Sessions’s nomination.

The United States attorney general has significant discretion to prosecute, or ignore, civil rights violations. We know that our criminal justice system, and our schools, disproportionately punish people of color. A justice department under Sessions would likely exacerbate those issues. As Chris Stewart points out in Citizen Education, the line between schools and the criminal justice system is thin, and getting thinner:

You remember the video from 2015. A black student ripped from her chair by a Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy – Ben Fields – and flung across the floor like a bag of beans. The incident caused outrage and a national discussion about the existence of police officers in public schools, which led to a federal investigation ... An analysis done by Ed Week found a strong presence of school resource officers accompanied by disproportionate arrests of students. They say 46% of high schools, 42% of elementary schools, and 18% of elementary schools have an onsite school resource officer. Those officers are sometimes trained for their unique role in public schools, but often they lack special training. While black students make up 16% of public school students overall, they represent 33% of those arrested at school.

First of all, we need to kill one particular euphemism: "school resource officers." They're police officers, and their training is in law enforcement, not the developmental needs of children. That's a huge problem. Second, this situation is great conversational fodder for the crowd that thinks it's possible to isolate what happens in the classroom from every other facet of a child's life. Children and their families do not live in a vacuum, and neither can education policy.