Seattle Teacher: Dear Betsy DeVos, You’re Not Welcome Here

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Guest Writer Jesse Hagopian

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My name is Jesse Hagopian and I teach ethnic studies at Seattle’s Garfield High School. I hope you didn’t just stop reading this letter after you heard the subject I am teaching—I urge you to keep reading.

I am writing in regards to the Washington Policy Center’s $350-a-person fundraising dinner you will be addressing on October 13 at the Hyatt Regency in the nearby city of Bellevue. Thousands of my colleagues and I will surround the building to make sure the world knows your message of division is not welcome here.

Given the recent protests of your speeches at Harvard, at historically black Bethune-Cookman University, and many other places, you must be getting used to this by now. But just so there are no surprises, let me tell you what to expect.

There will be bull horns, signs, speeches, and I bet some of the more creative teachers—perhaps the few art teachers your proposed budget hasn’t cut yet—will show up in grizzly bear costumes, referencing the asinine comment you made defending the use of guns in schools to “protect from potential grizzlies.”

Educator, author, activist Jesse Hagopian of Washington

There will be students there questioning your qualifications to serve as Secretary of Education, given that they have more experience with the public schools than you. They might point out that you never attended public schools and neither did any of your four children.

There will be black people and civil rights organizations because you refused to say if the federal government would bar funding for private schools that discriminate. These anti-racist activists will protest your claim that Historically Black Colleges and Universities are “pioneers of school choice” as a way to promote privatizing public education—as if the segregation that forced African Americans to start their own colleges was a magnificent choice.

There will be feminists protesting your outrageous dismantling of Title IX protections aimed at reducing sexual assault on campuses. Your decision to meet with sexist so-called “men’s rights” groups to decide on your approach to Title IX policy shows just how little regard you have for protecting victims of sexual assault. As Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said recently, “She’s meeting with groups and individuals today who believe that sexual assault is some sort of feminist plot to hurt men.”

There will be transgender people and others in the LGBTQ community protesting your decision, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to pull back public school guidelines allowing transgender students to use bathrooms for the gender they identify with. And while you have stated you don’t support gay conversation therapy, according to the Washington Post, you served from 2001 to 2013 as vice president of the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation (founded by your mother) which donated to anti-LGBTQ groups that do.

College students will join us because of your attempt to stop debt collection regulations meant to protect students from predatory colleges. The “borrower defense to repayment” rules implemented under President Obama make it easier for defrauded student loan borrowers to obtain debt forgiveness.

In addition, union educators and members will join the rally because of your unrelenting attack on organized labor. As Mother Jones magazine wrote of your plan to push the anti-union “right-to-work” legislation, “These laws outlaw contracts that require all employees in unionized workplaces to pay dues for union representation. Back in 2007, such a proposal in the union-heavy state of Michigan was considered a ‘right-wing fantasy,’ but thanks to the DeVoses’ aggressive strategy and funding, the bill became law by 2012.”

To be fair, I want to acknowledge that the destruction of public education didn’t begin with you. When your predecessor Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to town, we protested him as well. Like you, he was also committed to privatizing education; he just didn’t have your zeal for the voucher approach. But Duncan was even more motivated than you to reduce an individual student’s intellectual and emotional learning to a single number on a test that could be used to punish a child, a teacher, or a school.

To truly transform our public education system so it empowers students to be critical thinkers and changemakers, we must go far beyond removing you from office. To achieve the schools our children deserve it will require a mass grassroots uprising of educators, students, parents, unions, working people, the poor, LGBTQ folks, women, people of color, and human rights organizations who are ultimately empowered to democratically run their own school systems. Thankfully, all these constituents will be at the rally. And hopefully, we can start talking about our vision for remaking schools without billionaires and corporate reformers who see dollar signs where they should see children.

See you in a few days.

Sincerely,

Jesse Hagopian

Jesse Hagopian is a teacher and advisor to the Black Student Union at Seattle’s Garfield High School. Jesse is the editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing and an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. He blogs at: www.IAmAnEducator.com. This article currently appears in the latest edition of  The Progressive Magazine

Reader Comments

  1. As several readers noted, ranting, blocking entrances, shouting and lack of mature discourse are all destructive approaches which would seem to be counter productive. Complaining about big bucks dinners is laughable when one considers that criminals like the Clintons are able to command hundreds of thousands of dollars to self promote.

    Rather than complaining, wouldn’t a more rational approach be to engage in discussion that highlights issues and have both sides compare notes?

    1. MarineBob – There’s no comparing notes when our charge as public educators is to support our profession and her agenda is a list of ways to privatize or undermine it. Go crawl back under your troll bridge Bob.

      1. You sir, are a shining example of those you admire. Very mature attitude. If you can not accept that there exists a perspective different from yours, call that person a name and be a real meanie and tell them to away. Are you really more than 8 years old?

  2. Beautiful, well thought out letter Jesse. I have taught for 35 years and have witnessed the destruction of our our educational system. Students are suffering and now that they are adults, we are seeing its results. I continue to protest and rite letters but I think you hit the nail on its head. Until we ALL unite nothing will change. There are too many people out there for themselves. Money being the most important part of their decisions. It must change! Thank you for your letter. I wish every teacher would read it and may it motivate them to get involved.

    1. This must be a fake letter from a DeVos/Trump idiot. No self respecting, real teacher would write this comment with so many deliberate misspellings, not to mention incomprehensible sentences. My second grade students write more fluently.

      1. I can’t understand why my comment is placed under the incorrect comment. I was commenting on the badly written letter than was written by someone claiming to have been a teacher for 35 years and who wrote a bunch of gibberish.

  3. I’m no fan of Ms. DeVos myself, but let’s be realistic. This is the person we likely will have in this position to work with for at least the next several years. The childish antics described by Mr. Hagopian (shouting into bullhorns, waving around signs and other ways of acting like a nuisance) are going to accomplish nothing, except perhaps to alienate the people who are going to make the decisions that we educators are going to have to live with. Would you take seriously a grown man or woman in a bear suit? I think not. Why not attempt to negotiate with these people like adults and get at least some of what we want?

    1. Oh for Pete’s sake. Demonstrating is energizing and give stimulus to further discussion and negotiation. You sound like a pedantic stuffed shirt.

      1. Demonstrating without rational dialog is like trying to make a chicken walk up a ladder and hold onto the rails. It just doesn’t make sense. Not to mention the immaturity of it all.

  4. I have to disagree with Mr. Mortland. I would also tell her she was not welcome to spread her poisonous agenda. I saw a video of the student protests at Harvard and it did not seem to faze her at all. It certainly did not stop her mouth from moving and did not stop the words. If more places stood their ground and told her she was not welcome, like the countries that have told her boss he is not welcome, it would make a much more valid point. I wish Jesse and his school much success with their agenda to stop the poison.

      1. Yes, those would be students that are enrolled in public schools. The public schools are a good way to get a good education and possibly get a better life for yourself. There are many students who live in a family that don’t have the means to send them to a private school. So the only way for them to get ahead is to get a public education.

        DeVos never went to public school and none of her kids did either so what does she know about public education other than she is against it. She wants to take money from the public schools and give to private schools that people run for profit. She is taking money from a public school system that is already struggling financially. These private schools don’t have to pass the same test that the public schools do. The students at these voucher schools perform worse that the public schools.

        Another thing these charter schools can pick and choose who they admit the public schools can’t. I filled out an application for a kid in one of my classes that wanted to go Catholic Central and right on the application it asked if this student would benefit from special education services in parentheses it said that this wouldn’t affect their chances of getting in. Well if it wouldn’t affect their chance why are they asking the question. I believe it’s because it costs more to educate these students. For a lot of kids the public school is the only viable option and she wants to harm that option. She is not qualified for the job. What has she done to get the job other than contribute a lot of money to Trumps campaign.

  5. I have written extensively about: the reasons DeVos is unqualified to be Sec. of Education; the disingenuous proclamation of ‘education choice’; the profit motive which is the driving force behind privatization of public education; and much more. I will not, however, write about person not being welcome in my community. To demonize a person because I disagree with his/her policy beliefs or choices of action is not my style. It demeans & diminishes the content of the objections and arguments. In my opinion, Betsy DeVos is one of the most unqualified and reckless people to hold this office, but hold it she does. I will continue to write my objections to her proposed policies, budgets, priorities, and whatever else seems worthy of my time.

    1. This second posting was made because the first one seems to have been deleted or did not make the cut. I see now, that it did.

  6. At her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos was asked if the reason she was chosen was that she and her family had given so much money to various Republican candidates and causes and not because she knew so much about education. She didn’t deny that and said that it was a possibility

    Her performance shows that was not just a possibility, but a probability.

  7. I agree with everything Jesse and his fellow educators wrote in the letter. I was a librarian and teacher in an elementary school for 32 years. DeVos would hurt poor children and handicapped children with her philosophy.

    She would also have hurt our granddaughter who was born weighing only 1 lb 14 oz and who has gone through public school with flying colors although she has cerebral palsy and wants to be a teacher herself.

    DeVos is a backer of schools that cost students thousands of dollars with little results.

  8. Thanks for all that, Jesse. Also, thanks for calling out Arne Duncan’s dismal performance. I have been lamenting his high stakes testing regime for some time now. You know, what bothers me most is that the wealthy are never content to own so much more than the rest of us, vacation in all the most expensive places around the world, live in multi-million dollar homes, etc., etc. They feel the need to control government at every level, create a police state as their private/public military, suppress any lifestyle choice that doesn’t fit their world view, and then take funds from public schools and colleges that are needed to give the less fortunate a chance at the American Dream. Please, get your hands out of the cookie jar, go back to your private school world, and stop trying to take away from the people who are trying to get by. Stop pushing your morals and supernatural belief systems on us and having us pay for them. And stop complaining about paying taxes when the public funded infrastructure and taxed labor of others has allowed you to become financially successful.

  9. I truly believe that those who are intellectually impaired should have employment. I simply don’t think that they should be running the education arm of the US government. The woman is an idiot but, then, so is the man who appointed her.

      1. MarineBob – This president isn’t an idiot, but he is living proof that amassing a fortune doesn’t necessarily make you qualified to govern a nation effectively.

  10. As a woman, I am ashamed and embarrassed by this woman and her treatment of our children and their futures. Count me in to do whatever I can to help.

  11. Well said Jesse from a brilliant educator, proud to serve the talented students in his public school classroom! I don’t know you, but I do know the work, time effort and dedication you have for your profession and you take pride in your achievements in and out of the classroom. The slashing of classroom budgets through state education funding has to stop, and public school educators need strong union leaders like you Jesse… our strength in numbers and solidarity will help us carry on…. DeVos must have slept through her civics lessons in school-“Run Jesse Run”..

  12. Hear, hear! I, a Long Beach USD teacher (Ca.) support the heck out of you. DeVos, like many in her position, don’t seem to care about us or the damage it will do down the road. She is evasive in answering direct questions and is ignorant of exactly what a teacher does. To know why someone, such as she, was placed in this position we only need look at the person who (temporarily) occupies the White House to understand the phrase “ignorance is bliss.” I pray for a fast four years. (Hey! Almost three now!) I protest in spirit with you all.

  13. Jesse and everyone protesting B DeVos,
    Stay strong and loud. She and her family and the Republican controlled government in Michigan have destroyed and shredded public schools, freedom of speech and protest, unions, and funding for education. The Right to Work Law was passed in the dead of night behind a police presence with no one allowed in the Capitol Building as a punishment by the Governor Rick Snyder because teachers and staff, parents and students dared to protest the anti-public school movement. The coward governor cowed to the demands of the DeVoses and others like them because of money. He is the same governor who poisoned the whole community of Flint because he and the Repubs went against the voters loud NO to Emergency Managers and placed them anyway. Thus the atrocity of Flint. Being a teacher and retired teacher in Michigan, I have witnessed the power of dark money, the stupidity and ignorance of the rich and the pretend religious, and the degradation of a once vital, vibrant middle class and public education system. It’s heart breaking. Stay strong and don’t let her have a minutes rest.
    Sincerely,
    Lonelle Sawin – Retired teacher, Traverse City, Michigan

  14. Dear teacher,

    I like you, am an educator, but I’m what is considered a ‘clean-up’ teacher. I clean up those wonderful students you so eloquently speak about, today–you know, the ones who still can’t read, write, speak, or do simple, basic, math problems? Yes..the very students who leave your wonderful educational industry, where many of you get paid to talk, but don’t get paid to listen.

    Instead, you run your institutions like a commandant in a concentration camp. You expect your students to learn in those conditions, and you all speak the same crapola.

    Unfortunately, the students don’t learn and haven’t for many years.
    That’s when I get called in to the picture.

    I FIX THE PROBLEMS YOU CREATE! I teach YOUR students to do what they can’t do when they’re in the public school system. I teach thousands of students that are put out by WHAT YOU CALL, ‘PUBLIC EDUCATION’.

    If that’s educating the kids of today, please SIT DOWN and SHUT YOUR FACES.

    It’s time to learn a bit of reality.
    I have seen what people like you claim to teach, and what really crawls out into this world.

    I get to see them, daily. I get to hear how you DON’T TEACH my students ANYTHING..straight from the horse’s mouths..the students themselves. I get to listen, day in and day out, how YOU treat ALL of MY children.

    Instead of focusing on MS. Devos, maybe you should focus on reaching your students, so I’m not quite as busy every year, fixing what you never attempted to fix.

    You have been failing at your jobs for eons, and that’s why we don’t stand a chance of putting any students on another planet, much less saving the one we’re currently on.

    People like you disgust me. You’re so busy complaining about everyone else, that you refuse to look at what YOU’RE doing to the industry. YOU’RE causing everyone else to say, ‘ENOUGH!’

    It’s time to take off your pussy hats, remove your bear suits, and be grown ups, which I’m sorry to say, requires ACCEPTING YOUR OWN FAILURES.

    Time to see reality, my dear colleagues.

    This is REALITY:
    https://youtu.be/M2fHQ9eULzk
    This is what you’re putting out into the world. You call this teaching young minds? I call it, ‘failure’. That failure rests solely on YOUR shoulders, but hers.

    Maybe, just maybe, you should focus on actually teaching, as opposed to practicing politics.

    Shame on all of you!

  15. This is a fabulous article, especially exposing the activities that are evolving around both public schools and private schools, as well as other various groups DeVos is addressing…she is a disgrace to anyone involved with the education of children…She has been given the doorway to use her wealth and influence to hinder the educational opportunities of children of those of us who are NOT Millionaires…one more way the current president has warped the values of our country…

  16. I am so angry with her agenda that I really can think of little to say that does not include */&(^k%-!
    I have taught pre-school, volunteered in elementary school, and have taught junior high, high school, university (35 years) and community college adult education. Yes, I’m old. Yes, I’m furious. Resist her abismal, selfish ignorance with all your strength! And thank a teacher every time you get a chance for giving heart and soul to education of our nation.

  17. I just want to wish Jesse & his colleagues the best of luck. DeVos managed to sneak in a visit to some public schools here in Milpitas, CA. It’s beyond me why a public school district would do such a thing. That’s like letting the horse through the gates of Troy. Congratulations on your vigilance.

    1. Betsy DeVos has no right to be a part of charter schools. She should be fired as soon as possible. I was a teacher for 43 years in a public school. My students have become highly recognized in positions such as lawyers, administrations, executives and more. We in Connecticut have done very well without Betsy DeVos. Just please get rid of her.

      1. Seems a bit exclusive to exclude those with differing opinions. But then again, that is the hallmark of any liberal agenda.

  18. “… your message of division is not welcome here.” This places the focus where it belongs, on the message and not the person. Should you choose to look into it, you’ll find I’ve written extensively of my opposition to privatization, of the qualifications necessary for a Secretary of Education, and of my opposition to many of Sec. DeVos’s proposals. I am in no way a fan. I will continue to write what I believe is important and the bases of that is that a Secretary of Education should be concerned with empowering traditional public schools, as that is where the vast majority of American students are to be found.

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