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Table of Contents

    Cover Story
  • Free What's Your Story?

    Student identity on the walls in Philly

    By Joshua Kleiman, Charlie McGeehan

    A high school English teacher and a media arts teacher team up to teach a unit on identity. Students combine personal writing with vivid photography, creating large banners that become public art.

  • Features
  • Free Uchinaaguchi: The Language of My Heart


    By Moe Yonamine

    Returning to her home country of Okinawa at 13, Moé Yonamine was hit by a teacher for speaking her Indigenous language. She reflects on the history of colonial oppression in Okinawa and the importance of keeping culture and language alive.

  • Language Is a Human Right

    An interview with veteran activist Debbie Wei on language education in the Asian American community

    By Grace Cornell Gonzales

    Educator Debbie Wei, co-founder of a folk arts-based school in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, describes her journey—from growing up as the child of Chinese immigrants who never spoke to her in their native language, to advocating for heritage language programs.

  • Sabrina's Story

    Parents and teachers work together on inclusion

    By Kate MacLeod, Julie Causton, Nelia Nunes

    Third-grader Sabrina isn’t thriving in her self-contained special education classroom. Her parents believe that she would do better in an inclusion classroom, and they collaborate with teachers and staff to make it a success.

  • Medical Apartheid: Teaching the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

    By Gretchen Kraig-Turner

    Students in a bioethics class are horrified to learn about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, during which African American men were denied treatment for syphilis. They draw connections to other medical injustices and write their own codes of ethics for medical research.

  • Push Out: Racial Dynamics at a Turnaround School

    By Christopher B. Knaus

    A teacher educator is hired as a mentor by a turnaround school’s new principal. He soon realizes he is being asked to cover for getting rid of an excellent teacher of color.

  • Free All American Boys

    An interview with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

    By Renée Watson

    Two authors collaborated to write a nuanced novel from the perspectives of two young men—Rashad, who is Black, and Quinn, who is white. The novel gives teachers a powerful tool to discuss police brutality and racism with students.

  • Departments Free
    Editorials
  • In Our Hands

    By The Editors of Rethinking Schools
  • "Water Is Life" Teaching for Solidarity with Standing Rock

    By the editors of Rethinking Schools
  • Education Action
  • Betsy DeVos: Swamp Denizen Named Secretary of Education

  • Resources
  • Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources.
  • Good Stuff
  • My Night at the Planetarium

    Reviewed By Rachel Cloues

Betsy DeVos: Swamp Denizen Named Secretary of Education

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. secretary of education, is a denizen of the swamp he promised to drain. A billionaire member of the Republican right wing, she describes her school “reform” efforts as a campaign to “advance God’s Kingdom.”

Sarah Lazare at Alternet calls her a “founding funder of the modern education privatization movement.” Since the 1990s, DeVos has used her enormous financial resources to push vouchers and charter schools, destroy teacher and other public sector unions, and dismantle public education.

DeVos, who comes from a wealthy family in her own right (her brother is Erik Prince, founder of the mercenary company Blackwater USA), married into the DeVos Amway empire, which Mother Jones called “The new Kochs.” The public interest watchdog Progress Michigan noted, “The DeVos family has been using their deep pockets to influence the Michigan legislature for years, and it looks like they have finally bought their way into a presidential administration as well.” Betsy, who twice chaired the Michigan Republican Party, once boasted: “My family is the largest single contributor of so money to the national Republican Party. . . . I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point.”

Like the Koch brothers’ support for Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-labor crusade in Wisconsin, the DeVos family’s political operation in Michigan bolstered Gov. Rick Snyder’s assault on public services and labor union political power, facilitating Trump’s narrow electoral victory. DeVos and her husband fund a broad swath of right-wing causes, including campaigns against gay marriage and reproductive rights.

DeVos has no public education experience and has never been a public school parent. However, as a megafunder, influence peddler, and chair of the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice, she has pushed for the unlimited, unregulated expansion of private, charter, and even cyber schools as a matter of economic, ideological, and religious conviction.

If confirmed, her top priority will be promoting Trump’s pledge to pour $20 billion into vouchers for private schools, religious schools, and for-profit charter schools. The plan would divert funds from Title I, the largest federal education program supporting schools serving children in poverty.

Unfortunately, many aspects of privatization are “bipartisan issues” and too many Democratic politicians are scrambling to normalize Trump’s universe. As a result, DeVos’ nomination has received support from some Democrats as well as Republicans. Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-charter, anti-teacher-union lobby, congratulated DeVos on her nomination and pledged to work with her on charter expansion. New Jersey Senator Corey Booker, heralded by some as among the Democratic Party’s next generation of leaders, once served on the board of DeVos’ Alliance for School Choice.

However, as of early December, more than 85,000 people had sent letters to Congress opposing DeVos’ confirmation. The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, the Network for Public Education (NPE), and others are planning protests and demonstrations in an effort to block the nomination. As NPE President Diane Ravitch said: “Betsy DeVos’ hostility to public schools makes her unfit to be secretary of education. She has a long record of supporting private and religious schools, not public schools. Those of us who believe that public education is a public responsibility, not a consumer good, must resist her nomination. Police departments, fire fighters, public libraries, public parks, public beaches, public schools: these belong to all of us.” ◼