Caricature by DonkeyHotey

Do you think students should graduate with enough scientific literacy to know that dinosaurs and humans didn't coexist, and that climate change is real? Should they be informed and compassionate enough to understand that slavery and the Trail of Tears were crimes against humanity that should never be repeated? If so, you’ll want to be familiar, if you aren’t already, with president-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a billionaire and longtime supporter of vouchers and ultra-Right wing Christian doctrine in publicly-funded schools. There's no shortage of reasons why Betsy DeVos is bad for public education; in addition to bankrolling pro-voucher candidates and organizations that basically oppose teaching facts about evolution, climate change, and history, she's absolutely committed to large-scale privatization of public schools.

But while she'd probably love to be able to wave a magic wand and privatize all of America’s schools, she can't (though the Republican-controlled Congress will likely do as much as it can to advance that cause). Though test-and-punish policies certainly helped accelerate the pace of privatization over the past three decades, the U.S. Department of Education itself has never had the power to transform the nation’s education system overnight, and it has somewhat less influence over what states and school districts can do since Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) back in 2015. Together with a hostile Congress, however, the department could facilitate an unprecedented transfer of Title I funds from schools and districts serving students in poverty, to private schools of dubious quality.

What's more, DeVos could also directly dismantle the education department’s supports for students of color, students living in poverty, students with disabilities, girls, and LGBT youth. One of the department’s most powerful and important functions has been its promotion of students’ civil and human rights through the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). By enforcing laws that prohibit schools, districts, colleges, and other organizations receiving funding from the Department of Education from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender and sexual orientation, the OCR exists to protect the very people and policies most targeted by far-right culture warriors who believe America was greater when it didn't even attempt  to respect the fundamental rights and dignity of people who aren't affluent, white, straight, typically-abled, cisgender males. That makes it an attractive target to bigots who believe the still-incomplete expansion of equal rights to everyone should be stopped.

With an ally like DeVos in charge of the Department, the Trump Administration could and would likely do all it could to defang civil rights enforcement and other means of helping oppressed students, including:

Activists of all stripes need to continue to resist privatization nationwide. Those attacks at the state and local level certainly won't stop now that a GOP-controlled Congress has the ability to direct considerably more public money to voucher programs.

As we fight this nomination, and Trump Administration attacks on public schools, students, and communities more generally, we also need to keep an eye out for attempts to score bigoted political points at the expense of oppressed students’ civil and human rights.

Sabrina Joy Stevens is Midatlantic Regional Progressive Education Fellow, and a mother, writer, education advocate, and former teacher based in Washington, D.C. 

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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