Democrats have protested. Education majors have spoken out. Public school teachers have voiced their concern. Many have reached the same conclusion: Betsy DeVos is unqualified and ill-quipped to serve as the Secretary of Education. Still, there seemed to be a "silent majority" of former public school students with feelings and concerns about DeVos, especially regarding her main charge against public education. Well, consider the "silent majority" silent no more. As a former public school student, I realized the importance of projecting our voices for the future of public education. Much like politicians, students studying education and public school teachers, these seven former public school students reached a similar conclusion when I asked the following question:
What are your thoughts for Trump's Secretary of Education pick, Betsy DeVos? Are you concerned, pleased or maybe optimistic? How do you think she will impact public education?
I began with Bioinformatics college student Sheighlah McManus. After attending the public high school, Jane Long Academy in the Houston Independent School District, she took on quite an optimistic stance stating,
"We should always approach someone with the benefit of the doubt, but it does seem that she has a lot of things to learn considering that she doesn’t have a background in education."
McNanus took her statement further and offered a viable solution for concerned parents, teachers and students:
"All we can do is hope for the best and always voice our opinion as students and community members because there is power in numbers and in our voices."
I followed my interview with Uzma Jamil, a student who not only follows politics in history as a Political Science major, but also in present time as a community member. She's a McArthur High School graduate and a former student of Broward County Public Schools District. Jamil criticized DeVos' main charge against public education and said:
"[I am] very concerned because she seems to be creating a negative perception of public schools and how they aren’t good for education. I received so many opportunities at my public high school and I never felt as if I was being limited because I didn’t attend a private or charter school."
Similarly, Walid Musa, a current college student studying Electrical and Computer Engineering and a former public school student at Northland High School in the Ohio City Schools District, suggested:
"Betsy DeVos needs to learn about how public schools are different from what she grew up with. Otherwise she will unknowingly put the chance of millions of young Americans to get a good education at risk."
Also speaking to DeVos' inexperience is theater major and Golden Valley High School (within the William S. Hart Union High School District) diploma recipient, Jason Moua, who said:
"I've grown up with the public school system and to have someone belittle the public school system — without even experiencing it for themselves − is just plain ignorant."
Emily Bourgeois, a current English major and pre-law student with over a decade of experience in Millard Public Schools, extrapolates Moua's statement and challenged me to:
"Look at education as the last vestige of social mobility in this country, which frankly it is, we cannot afford to endanger it in any way. What scares me most as a product of public schools and the daughter of a teacher, is DeVos' lack of knowledge about the public education system that she will be regulating."
Additionally, Bourgeois expresses concern for the future of public education as she reflects on her childhood, explaining:
"I grew up in the age of No Child Left Behind and I'm worried about the possibility of her decisions creating a system that repulses children from education all together. Today's job market requires a college degree. If you turn away potential starting in Kindergarten, you're setting up a generation for failure."
Psychology student, Shelby Everett, also spoke to the impact that public education has among working and middle class families and points out:
"Most working families cannot afford privatized education and those students deserve the same opportunities as private school students."
Furthermore, as a Boca Raton High School graduate within the School District of Palm Beach County, Everett tells me:
"I feel very disappointed by Trump’s Secretary of Education choice. Not only does she lack the basic knowledge and experience necessary to work for the Department of Education, but she also lacks the understanding of the public education system."
Still, when I concluded my questioning with Andre Kirunda, a college student majoring in Behavioral Neuroscience and Philosophy, he recognized some faults in public education and recalls:
"I have lived and experienced much of what the public education system has to offer, and have observed many areas of improvement."
However, this former Hamilton High School (within Chandler Unified School District) student still relays dissatisfaction with DeVos inexperience stating:
"There is something to be said about the incomparable differences between living something and merely reading about it — should the Secretary of Education nominee even try to gain a better understanding about the current public education system. To be blunt, she is unqualified in every way and shape possible."
Although I interviewed seven college students in various disciplines who previously attended public schools across the nation, my investigation felt incomplete. I virtually trespassed through the United States and reached out to students who attended public high schools in places I've never been to before like Arizona and California. It was not until I brought my question of, "What are your thoughts for Trump's Secretary of Education pick, Betsy DeVos ? Are you concerned, pleased, maybe optimistic and how do you think she will impact public education?" back home to my alma matter, South Gwinnett High School, that I felt my investigation complete.
In order to round out my questioning, I asked a current student of Gwinnett County Public Schools, Alicia Owens, my focus question. Her response sounded alarmingly similar as she says:
"I'm upset by DeVos becoming Education Secretary for a few reasons. Sure, the lack of experience is unsettling. I disagree with her plans for our schools. What upsets me most though, as a visually impaired student, is the fact that she had no knowledge of the rights given to disabled students in a school setting."
Owens also ponders the effect DeVos could have on public schools and begged me to consider that:
"Her as the Secretary of Education could diminish the special needs classroom program, it could eliminate individualized education plans and so much more that would put the education of many students at risk. I hope she learns to do her job well."
As a former public school student, education major and political junkie, I connect with each of these students in different ways and I resoundingly agree with the 50 senators who voted against DeVos' confirmation. To answer my question: I am concerned, unpleased and much more realistic than optimistic about the impact DeVos' might have on the future of public education. However, I will not simply lay back and complain about Betsy DeVos. I fully intend to hold her accountable for preserving and elevating public education as long as she chooses to serve as the Secretary of Education.
Lead Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons // Ted Eytan