I was just a child when Reagan took shots at the Federal Department of Education, and suggested that it should be abolished. In the years since I’ve seen many conservative politicians chastised for suggesting the same.
To be honest, I usually agreed with them.
Education is the responsibility of the states. Federalism and divided power makes our nation strong and provides a context for change without sacrificing stability. Even as a teacher, when I saw budget pie charts with such a tiny slice of revenue for our district coming from the federal government I would wonder why we even accept their money in exchange for spending even more of ours to meet federal mandates and requirements. Especially after No Child Left Behind became the law of the land.
But now that I’m older, even with a Trump administration at the helm, I’m not so sure that I was right.
We have a history in the United States. Some people don’t believe education is a right. Some people don’t understand that giving everyone an equal chance isn’t an equal chance when the starting line is so much further ahead for some than it is for others. And when resources get low, it’s easiest to shortchange the neediest among us.
I’ve heard people, related to me by blood, still alive today, express the belief that integrating schools is at the root of our countries' trouble today.
It’s not the law of the land, but the birth certificate of our nation proclaims that all men were created equal, and endowed with the natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Education may not be a right of birth, but it is one of the few routes at our disposal to live up to the promise of our Declaration.
That could be reason enough to value the Federal Department of Education. It can provide the oversight to make sure that our varied systems of education in the United States are living up to the promise to give a fair shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all of the children that come through our doors.
If I am right, and that is the most valuable reason for its existence, then I am concerned that with Betsy Devos at the head its only value may be lost. But I am hopeful. In her first speech as secretary, she promised to listen. She promised to serve every child. She even made a joke about bears. The news over the weekend about the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act website doesn't bode well, but for now, we'll do what we do and what we've done.
Face every child that comes before us today, and give them the best that we have.