Thomas Jefferson and John Adams agreed on very little, but one thing that they did agree upon was the importance of public education. It was Adams who said, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.” Jefferson said, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
I don’t think it would have ever occurred to either Adams or Jefferson that it would be in the best interest of our nation to hand over the duty of educating our young people to those interested in making a profit. Yet, that is what the current nominee to be the Secretary of Education has spent the last 25 years advocating for. Betsy DeVos has spent millions of her own dollars with the sole purpose of diverting taxpayer dollars to those who seek to turn a profit off of the education of our young people.
Reading the words of Jefferson and Adams should remind us of a time when public education wasn’t politicized. It wasn’t that long ago that politicians of every stripe recognized that public education was the great equalizer. President George H.W. Bush said, “Think about every problem, every challenge, we face. The solution to each starts with education.” Providing the best possible opportunities for every young person shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
Ms. DeVos’s advocacy in support of for-profit schools seems to be rooted in the idea that creating competition for resources will make all schools better. When talking about schools in September, Donald Trump said, “Competition always does it. The weak fall out and the strong get better. It is an amazing thing.” The amazing thing is that there is no evidence that this is true. Christopher and Sarah Lubienski have written a book entitled “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools” that uses considerable data to demonstrate that public schools tend to actually be more innovative and more successful than private and charter schools. Study after study in the state of Michigan have demonstrated that the unregulated for-profit charter schools that are Ms. DeVos’s legacy in that state are less successful than their public counterparts. Ms. DeVos has put millions of dollars into the campaigns of legislators at the state and national level (some of whom will vote on her confirmation) to “persuade” them to support her agenda. Those of us who have our boots on the ground doing the work of educating young people don’t have billions of dollars to spend to lobby the senate, all we have are our voices.
There is no way to interpret the words of our founding fathers that would support unregulated for-profit schools. Public education can be better. The solution to better schools doesn’t lie in “winning” and “losing”, the answer lies in creating opportunities for ALL students. Adams and Jefferson understood that. Jefferson said, “The tax which will be paid for this purpose (education) is not more than the thousandth part of which will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.” Are our current legislators willing to rise up in support of what is best for ALL young people and against the kings and nobles who wish to profit off of them?