On a crisp, windy night in downtown Nashville, I joined teachers, parents, and members of the Tennessee legislature as we protested Betsy DeVos’ visit to the Music City. As I drove in, fighting the stop and go of Nashville’s rush hour traffic, I kept asking myself, “Am I crazy for doing this? Should I just turn around and go home and spend time with my daughters and my wife?” After looking at the standstill of outbound traffic, I decided that I had passed the proverbial point of no return and proceeded to Riverfront Park.
We were a motley crew, standing along 1st Avenue holding our pro-public schools and anti-DeVos signs, reverberating chants like, “Tennessee schools are under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back!” It was fascinating watching the unsuspecting drivers peer sheepishly in our direction, wondering what we were protesting. Many honked their horns in support, with the occasional thumbs-up added to the mix.
While I admittedly felt guilty for leaving a technology conference in Murfreesboro to go to Nashville for the protest instead of going home, I felt strongly that I was helping raise awareness to a problem that needs to be addressed--that Secretary DeVos knows virtually nothing about how public education works and is determined to destroy it at all costs. One only needs to look at the woeful condition of Michigan’s schools for an indication of what she hopes to accomplish nationally.
As some fellow protesters and I walked back to our vehicles, we talked about the fact that while the protest raised awareness to statewide resistance to DeVos (there were teachers there from as far away as Memphis and Johnson City), nothing is going to change as a result of our protest. This organically raised the question of what, then, will cause change to happen? How can we, as teachers, parents, and concerned citizens actually impact national education policy, and how can we actually get rid of Betsy DeVos? We left the protest that night with more questions than answers.
The bleak reality is that there’s little we can do right now to defend public education against the federal government. I kept thinking of a yellow flag with a snake coiled in the middle and the words “Don’t Tread on Me” printed in all caps at the top. How ironic that many of the same people who proudly boast that motto are the very ones who voted for President Trump, who then appointed DeVos to her post. As a public school teacher and as a parent of two girls in public schools, I am sick and tired of being tread on. I’m exasperated, and “fighting the good fight” takes time and energy that I often don’t have after a mentally and physically exhausting day at work.
That said, I’d much rather do something over sitting at home complaining about my plight which will assuredly yield no result whatsoever. Also, I have reason to be optimistic. Recent polls have indicated that Tennesseans consider public education and expanded access to health care their top priorities going into the 2018 mid-term election. These are two areas in particular in which the Republican Party struggles mightily. For example, the tax reform bills that the U.S. House and Senate recently passed and need to reconcile attacks education by eliminating the following deductions: the $250 deduction for educators spending their own money on classroom supplies, the deduction for student loan interest and graduate school tuition waivers, and the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT), which includes property taxes. Long story short, states will likely have no choice but to cut public education funding to provide their citizens some relief from an increase in their federal taxes.
Once more citizens, and especially more teachers, truly understand and start speaking out about the graveness of the most recent attacks on public education, things will begin to improve. In the meantime, it is crucial that pro-education candidates like Mary Alice Carfi (State Senate, District 17), Mariah Phillips (U.S. Congress, 4th District), and Craig Fitzhugh or Karl Dean (governor) be elected here in Tennessee. It’s time for Tennesseans to elect people who will truly stand on the side of educators and, most importantly, our students. A thriving education system is the most fundamental pillar of any great society. The best way to “Make America Great Again” is through supporting public education by speaking out against injustices and those who perpetuate them, like Secretary DeVos, and by electing representatives who will truly put students first.