As is well known by this time, President Donald Trump and equally unqualified Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ardently support diverting public funds to church-run and other special-interest private schools as well as to charter schools not under meaningful public control. They are, of course, way out of sync with the majority of Americans, who in twenty-eight state referendum elections from coast to coast over the past half century have voted against all such diversions by an average of 2 to 1. Trump and DeVos are even more out of sync with the experienced classroom teachers, school principals, and district superintendents responsible for educating the fifty million kids in our public schools.
In December, the journal Education Week reported on a poll of these professional educators. By 77 percent to 17 percent, with 6 percent undecided, they opposed “government funding to help pay for students’ tuition at private schools.” Educators who voted for Trump in 2016 oppose such funding by 70 percent to 25 percent, with 6 percent undecided. Those who voted for Hillary Clinton are opposed by 85 percent to 11 percent, with 4 percent undecided.
On the matter of charter schools, the educators polled oppose “the formation of charter schools, publicly funded schools that are not managed by the local school board” by 71 percent to 17 percent, with 12 percent undecided. Those who voted for Trump oppose such charters by 64 percent to 22 percent, with 15 percent undecided. Those who voted for Clinton are opposed by 80 percent to 13 percent, with 8 percent undecided.
Thus, as with climate change, women’s reproductive rights, tax reform, and other issues, the Trump administration is wildly out of sync with the majority of voters and with experts in these fields. And, as I pointed out in my February/March column, the Trump position on education issues is seriously out of sync with the interests of his rural and small-town voter base.
Also in December, the Republican-dominated Congress rammed through, without hearings or anything resembling due deliberation, a tax “deform” law that aids the rich more than the rest of us—and includes a section that benefits wealthier taxpayers who send their kids to private schools. Tax-free 529 savings accounts that could previously be used only to pay for college (up to $10,000 per student) may now be used for private K–12 tuition and home schooling. As the Washington Post explains it:
advocates of school choice have pointed out that it largely benefits wealthier families who can afford to save for private schools. And public school advocates say it gives parents incentives to leave public schools, and that harms districts that rely on education funding based on how many pupils enroll.
Betsy DeVos, naturally, called the move “a good step forward.” And all this leads to …
Yale professor Timothy Snyder, author of a dozen books on recent European history, has a terrific new five-star book that merits the widest circulation. It is On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (Tim Duggan Books, 2017, 127 pp). With a page size of only 4 x 6 inches, the book can be read in an hour or so. Snyder makes the point that our country is sliding into a fascist-leaning oligarchy or plutocracy and backs that up with examples from European history and from Orwell’s 1984, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America.
Snyder then goes on to insist that every American needs to be involved one way or another in the efforts to head off this undemocratic drift. We can’t all be a Rosa Parks, but we can all be informed, be politically active, donate generously to cause organizations and candidates, use social media, and so on. The alternative is unthinkable. I would add to what Snyder wrote that we have to prioritize, tackle the most serious problems first, and be willing to work with people of diverse backgrounds and life stances.
Interestingly, Snyder does not mention the name of the current occupant of what has become the Offal Office, but it rhymes with “chump,” “frump,” and “plump.”
And speaking of the guy in the Offal Office, we are all familiar with his boasts in early January about being “like, really smart” and a “stable genius.” Duh! Trump claims to be a “Christian” and to revere the Bible, but he seems to be unfamiliar with what Jesus is reported to have said in Matthew 23:12: “He who exalts himself shall be humiliated.”