President Trump is making most of us a little crazy these days and a recent meeting regarding education is certainly no exception. With the aftermath of the election coupled with the unprecedented opposition to Betsy DeVos’s nomination for Secretary of Education, there has been a hyper intensity about all things political in general and also as they relate to education. Students have been organizing walk outs, vitriol has been flying all over social media, and America’s educators have been tasked with the challenge of managing it all within the walls of their schools. While for some schools, the impact has been minimal, others have seen their students and even some staff in a state of terror over potential immigration raids. Others feel patently insulted that where they live — the inner city — has been broad brushed by their new President as the equivalent of “living in hell.”
And that brings me to something that I found stunning this week and it came in the form of a photo. If we know that there are many in America concerned about insensitivity around race and even racism within the Trump administration, how can the first listening session and photo opp with teachers and parents not include a single African American? If I’m Betsy DeVos and this is the group that staffers bring to me for my first official event with educators and parents, my reaction is that it’s an unacceptable sample until it more closely reflects the students in our nation’s schools who, in 2014, became majority minority. This doesn’t look enough like America and it certainly isn’t reflective of the students or families most likely to be zoned to chronically under-performing schools.
It’s important to note that while countless folks in EduWorld railed against Betsy DeVos up until and even after her confirmation, I did not. I was particularly bothered by what I saw as unfair attacks on her wealth and her religion being used to undermine her nomination. But she faltered pretty dramatically during parts of her confirmation hearing and ultimately, her nomination ended up with a tie breaking vote by Vice President, Mike Pence.
This matters because with such a raw fight, trust needs to be built and healing needs to occur. And optics matter. A lot. Especially in the beginning of a polarizing figure’s tenure. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, this wasn’t the right picture because these weren’t the right people when so many of America’s students don’t see themselves in anyone in this photo.
The work ahead for the DeVos and her team is going to be hard. It’s not too much to ask that they get the easy stuff right.