I am a former high school history teacher. I spent eight years working in Utah schools, and here’s what all Americans should know about the fragile state of public education:
When newly confirmed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her henchmen annihilate the Department of Education, you won't notice. A year from now, two years from now, four years from now, you might even be tempted to say, "Nothing has changed; we didn't have anything to worry about."
Because good teachers in public education will not stop. They will keep fighting; they will keep teaching your kids. They will circumvent laws and regulations on the district, state and federal levels. They will spend their own money. They will die on the hill of free and equitable education so your students receive the resources they need and absolutely deserve.
And you won't see it happen. You'll think that maybe DeVos isn't so bad, or maybe school choice is a good alternative — after all, you hear about how fraudulent and inefficient and lazy teachers are all the time. You hear about the awful unions and tenured teachers who stop teaching.
You don't hear about the backbreaking workload or the emotional stress of caring deeply for 200 teenagers or 45 kindergartners. You don't see the late nights and early mornings, the hours spent applying for grants, the decision in the grocery store to not buy fresh fruit and vegetables — to choose once again to live on rice and beans for another three weeks, teachers sacrificing their well-being to buy supplies for their students instead of feeding themselves and, so often, their own kids.
You won't see the subtle ways the Legislature once again claims to increase funding to schools but sends the money to companies with lobbyists who offer discounted iPads or expensive testing technology (SAGE) while cutting teacher salaries another $100 a month. You won't understand how the voucher you'll use to send your child to a private school took money away from 10 low-income students who could never afford a private school, even with a voucher.
You'll maybe see desperate teachers work at failing charter schools for pennies because government deregulation creates an implosion of alternative schools that take state money but aren't required to meet state standards, especially state standards for teacher compensation.
You won't see what happens because you aren't a teacher, and maybe you don't have a special-needs student, or you aren't a low-income family, or a person of color, or the parent of a LGBTQIA student. Meanwhile, the teachers are silently and desperately keeping everything together because we can't stop caring about your children even though we know we should.
So please don't forget. Please pay attention. Start paying attention to what is happening in your school, in your district and in your state.
Betsy DeVos won't kill public education. You will. Your silence, your apathy, your ignorance will destroy the cornerstone of American democracy, and you won't see it happen.
Stephanie Lauritzen is a former Utah public school teacher.