Autism and the Future of Education in the United States

Rant alert.

Last week, the new government confirmed, by a historic tie-breaking vice presidential vote, the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.

Educators, teachers unions, parents, and especially the special needs community were fearful of this woman’s confirmation. Now, it has happened.

In my opinion, this is yet another low for a new government that has done nothing but go low in its attempt to undo eight years of progress.

Mrs. DeVos was nominated by our new president in a consistent manner of naming unqualified and potentially damaging people to high level cabinet positions.

For me, the Secretary of Education position is the most personal one.

I not only have a middle school student, but my child has autism. He is a special needs student. He has had an IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting since age three. He has had an aide in a typical classroom since pre-school.

He had received a quality public school education with the addition of adapting his educational needs due to his diagnosis of autism.

Besides the aide, my son’s needs have included speech and occupational therapy. He has used special equipment in the classroom (a chair, a yoga ball), and he had been allowed classroom breaks.

His placements and accommodations have been agreed up by an IEP team (which includes his parents) and his accommodations have been followed according a legal document—the IEP document.

All I can say is that I am completely satisfied with my child’s education. His school district has been supportive and pro-active.

Now, what will happened?

Honestly, I am not sure. Perhaps not a lot will happen since Federal funding for schools makes up less than 10% of their budgets. State funding plays a much larger role in education than Federal funding.

However, let’s take a look at some things about our new Secretary of Education:

*Mrs. DeVos has never attended a public school.

*Her children have never attended a public school.

*Let’s just say she comes from lots of money. Her family wealth is in the billions.

*She has never worked in a public school.

*She does not have a degree in education (She has a college degree in business.)

*She does not have a teaching certificate.

*She does not support public schools. Instead, she believes in “Schools of Choice.” She had supported a movement which allows students to receive vouchers that would allow them to attend private schools.

*Her nomination was hotly contested and she was confirmed by a razor thin vote because of her obvious lack of experience as well as her enormous financial contributions to the Republican Party.

And here is the most frightening thing to me, the mother of a child with autism…

From WikiPedia:

“Betsy and her husband…are chief investors in and board members of… a group of brain performance centers offering biofeedback therapy for disorders such as depression, attention deficit disorder, autism, and anxiety. The therapy consists of showing movies to patients and interrupting them when they become distracted, in an effort to retrain their brains. According to The New York Times, a review of….claims and interviews with medical experts suggest that the company’s conclusions are unproven and its methods questionable.”

So, Mrs. DeVos, you’re going to cure my son of autism by showing him some movies?

Or, are you going to make sure that he goes to a “special” school due to his disability, ignoring that fact that my son thrives in a public educational system within a typical classroom. He is academically proficient and has made tremendous progress socially.

Are you kidding me?

During her confirmation, Mrs. DeVos was questioned by a bi-partisan senate committee:

*She DID NOT know about IDEA. (The Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act).

*She has had no experience with financial aid or student loans.

*She stated that her family’s business interests will no longer donate to any educational institution.

*She wants states to decide if they want guns in their schools.

(She suggested that guns be allowed in schools to handle…grizzly bears.)

*And, she is for funneling money from public schools to for-profit Christian schools.

And, during her first week in office…

*She has tweeted twice…The first one joked that she couldn’t find the pencils.

*In her second tweet, she posted a quote from W.E.B. Du Bois (writer and civil rights activist)…except she misspelled his name.

*And, she attempted to visit a Washington D.C. middle school only to be blocked by protestors.

I do not believe this person is qualified to be in charge of education for our country.

She has donated millions of dollars to several current Senate Republicans and her family has donated over 17 million dollars to Republican causes.

Bottom line, she bought her way into a cabinet post that she is one hundred unqualified to run.

In an Op-Ed piece a few years ago, she stated she does not take offense that she is buying influence. She simply concedes the point. “They are right.”

What will she do with her winnings? Or, let’s call it investments, because that is what Mrs. DeVos (and several new cabinet members) has done, she has invested her money and been rewarded with a very substantial government position.

If she wants to educate our future children in Christian-only schools, prioritize them, than that leaves out the majority of the children in this country as well as (my worst fear) the needs of special needs children.

The highest ranking educator in our country has an agenda. Even if the jury is still out, I fear for the future of free, equal, and public education where the teachings of history does not involve creationism or some form of revisionist history. Science will be tossed out the door. Religion (but only Christian teachings) will be the primary focus for children.

She believes in “choice,” yet I fear our educational system will head in the opposite direction of choice. Our school systems may very well end up divided, the privileged getting to the head of each and every class, and Mrs. DeVos’s personal religious beliefs will lead us.

I’ll be watching.

 

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