A Teachable Moment for DeVos

At my children’s school here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, (hometown of Sec. of Education, Betsy DeVos) the nation-wide “Day Without Immigrants” chalked up a barely 50% attendance rate, as immigrant families chose to keep their children home.

Other schools in the district with large immigrant enrollments forced the district to declare a “non-academic” day, lacking the required 75% overall attendance daily report. This may require an extra day added to the school calendar, if, more “snow days” come our way before Spring.

What this act of solidarity should teach us and our new “Head Administrator”, Mrs. DeVos, is that immigrant families depend on public schools, and school districts depend on the immigrant population to keep neighborhood schools viable, and open, for everyone.

So, this begs many questions, among them, “What impact with Trump’s new immigration policies, which are really repatriation orders, on public education as we know it?”

Another question for DeVos is, “Considering the role public schools play providing English as Second Language (ESL) services, adult education and non-traditional student high school completion courses, how will the diversion of public school funds to a voucher program, impact the ability of the district to continue to conduct these much needed resources for immigrant students and their parents?”

In addition, public schools are often the only support system for families with children who have special needs, be they immigrant children or not. How will DeVos square these high-cost, per-child services with what many school officials see as being in danger of severe cut-backs or elimination under a voucher system?

One champion of these and other questions for DeVos is the president of the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen García.

Nearly three weeks ago, she received a voice mail from Sec. DeVos, suggesting they meet.

Before agreeing to the meeting, Garcia asked that DeVos come with some answers to direct questions posed by Garcia, in the wake of the Senate confirmation hearing, during which DeVos gave vague or non-answers.

As of this blog’s writing, DeVos has not responded to the request.

Here is an open letter written by Garcia to DeVos while waiting for her reply. Note the specific numbered questions below.


Dear Secretary DeVos:

I am writing in response to your voice mail. I’m an elementary teacher from Utah. I’ve taught in middle-class suburbs. I’ve taught homeless children and hard-to-place foster kids in a residential home. I know how important it is for my students to have education leaders who understand their lives and the support they need. As president of the 3-million-member National Education Association, I look for partners to stand with us as we protect the rights of all our students.

We will continue to fight for students, educators, and public schools. We will make sure the voices of educators are heard and that policymakers understand that investing in public schools is an investment in the next generation of teachers, scientists, welders, and even politicians.

It’s important for educators, parents, and communities to know where you stand on some of the most critical work of the federal Department of Education. We must ask you to give us the substantive answers that we did not hear you give to the senators at your hearing on issues critical to our students:

  1. Do you agree that all schools receiving public dollars must be held to the sameaccountability and transparency standards?
    2. Will you agree not to privatize funding for Special Education of Title I?
    3. Will you stand with educators and protect our most vulnerable students from discrimination, including LGBT students, immigrant students, students of color, girls and English language learners?
    4. Will you focus, as educators are focused, on the civil rights of all children, regardless of their ZIP code, by challenging the inequities so many face in equal access to programs, services and support?

For us, there is a wrong answer to these questions. Privatizing and profiting from public education has not moved us toward equity, equal access, non-discrimination, and opportunity for all students. Educators will never waver in our determination to create a system that works for ALL children. Educators, students, and parents deserve to know that the U.S. Secretary of Education will do the same.

We look forward to your response.

Lily Eskelsen García
1989 Utah Teacher of the Year
President, National Education Association

So, Secretary DeVos, not only is the NEA interested in your answers, but all of us parents of immigrant children, special needs students, and all who are public school supporters, await your honest, open and direct response.

This IS a timed test! Not a pop quiz!

The Unlikely Student





Dr.Seuss Meets Donald Trump

How to help your child make sense of it all?…Have no fear! Horton is here!

When our kids watch the marches, the protests at airports, the unrelenting, ever growing, global outcry over Trump’s edicts,  do we know how they are taking all this in, and if so, what it means?

After an evening’s digest of watching massive crowds protesting Trump’s immigration and refugee “executive orders” it was time to put the kids to bed, which is never without a bedtime story. This night our 5-year-old’s request was, “Dad, read Horton Hears A Who!”

Half asleep myself, I opened the bright orange Dr. Seuss book with that unforgettable Horton the elephant on the cover and I began…Perhaps you know the story.

Upon discovering a whole Who village on a clover’s head, Horton bravely protects them from Who deniers, evil birds of prey, and monkeys who beat and caged him, but all the while he holds the delicate clover and the Whos’ lives wrapped by his faithful trunk.

Then, these words clicked…sure as a Dr. Seuss rhyme.

“But he (Horton) managed to call/To the (Who) Mayor: Don’t give up! I believe in you all!/ A person’s a person, no matter how small! And you very small persons will not have to die/If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now, and TRY!”
After all attempts to yell, scream, bang pots and more, still the Who people were not heard. Still they were in danger of extinction by the hard-hearted jungle creatures who harassed Horton.

But, then, the mayor finds one small Who boy who had not joined the ruckus.

“This,” cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!/ The time for all Whos who have blood that is red/To come to the aid of their country!” he said./ We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!/So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”

The young Who’s “Yopp” was the decisive voice!

“That one small, extra Yopp put it over!/ Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover/Their voices were heard!..”

The Whos were saved. The menacing kangaroo, threatening their demise, finally listened and…once he heard, once he acknowledged the Whos’ existence, he had a change of heart.

“From now on, you know what I’m planning to do?/From now on, I’m going to protect them with you!/…From sun in the summer. From rain when it’s fall-ish, I’m going to protect them. No matter how small-ish!”

Someone send “Horton Hears A Who!” to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Washington, D.C. Address it to “Donald Trump and Staff” and inscribe it with these words, “For every bedtime until you hear us, Mr. President.”

And, perhaps, this Horton story just might help you explain to your children or grandchildren just how important their voices are, no matter how small. Perhaps this book may help them better grasp why YOU are out there, in the marches, organizing local resistance groups, getting up, getting out, and NOT giving up!

Good reading and sleep well! I have a feeling you’re going to need your rest.

The Unlikely Student





Solidarity Wins!

We have one thing to thank Donald Trump for and that is the reawakening of passionate people across the country who refuse to accept as a “new normal” the erosion of the progress made thus far on issues domestic and foreign.

Everywhere, organizations formal and informal, local and national, are emerging to stand up for the common good, for the disenfranchised, for equity and justice and Mother Earth.

Locally, I am a member of the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club to stand for land, resources and climate change issues.

I joined Equity PAC, organized to support candidates who champion equity platforms while keeping watch over non-elected, appointed officials who influence public policies, reminding them they too are accountable to the public.

Just a few miles from my home town, the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance is formalizing their multi-issue strategies for this year, bringing together people who are passionate about any one or more causes.

On a national scale, the rise of “Our Revolution” is a movement inclusive of a broad range of key equity and social justice issues born out of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Another organization, “Indivisible,” published an online guidebook written by experts familiar with the workings of the national government. The publication is a great step-by-step, start-up manual for grassroots organizers.

All this is happening…now…as people emerge from their valleys of post-election despair  and begin mobilizing their hands and feet, hearts and minds and finding like-minded folk to join the struggle.

Each new organization has its own agenda, but, let us not be so “my cause-focused” that we divert ourselves from the overall national agenda of advocacy pertaining to the welfare of all, including the planet itself.

Part of my activism is to champion “Solidarity” – creating awareness and links among and between as many groups as I can come to know, in the struggle, no matter which cause is on whose agenda.

In my next blog I will detail my personal action plan for boosting solidarity!

All issues are linked. All organizations, I urge, need to link in mutual support of each other’s mission if we are to make our voices heard and actions count.

For starters, solidarity begins like this…

  1. Be aware of other organizations’ existence.
  2. Get to know each other’s missions and purpose.
  3. Attend each other’s events and encourage your supports to attend as well.
  4. Invite other organizations’ leadership to meet occasionally to discuss strategies, progress, challenges and ways to join together on common causes.
  5. Create a cross-organizations’ “watch lists” of legislators, candidates, (local, state, national) whose agendas threaten your or others’ causes. Prepare effective strategies to influence outcomes.
  6. Be aware of “open seats” on local commissions and advisory councils which you can urge people, who demonstrate equity and justice action, to put their names up for filling these open, non-elected seats. (Note: This is where real public policy happens.)
  7. Know the nominees for government appointments from the President’s Cabinet on down through all departments. Contact the review committees’ members and legislators and let them know your views on these nominees.
  8. Create and share an up-to-date “contact” list of legislators who are in positions to support your causes.  Demonstrate your solidarity with them. Encourage them in their struggle.
  9.  Start a multi-organization “call-chain”  with each member of each group contacting a chain of five others alerting each of pending legislation that must be blocked and defeated.
  10. Jointly sponsor and host local “teach-ins” to inform residents of the issues and their importance to their lives and how to get involved by taking action.
  11. Jointly host guest speakers, film showings, concerts, pot-lucks and other events to draw attention to key issues which are bound to impact some, and therefore, all of us.
  12. Live out what solidarity means by uniting in spirit and action, with your children watching and joining in when possible, advocating with and for each other’s causes…making these your causes too.

One more suggestion,  host a book reading or a book club, using Angela Davis’, “Freedom is a Constant Struggle.”

You will find, throughout the speeches and writings which make up this book, the theme of the importance and impact of solidarity among unknown, but dedicated, women and men, who collectively won great victories in struggles past and present.

There IS profound freedom IN the struggle!

Let’s find that freedom together…in solidarity!


The unlikely student

“When one of us suffers at the hands of the few, all the people do!” from the song, “We The People Do!” by Dale Alan.  Album: “Where Does The Justice Go?”


Pipeline to the President



Next Tuesday, do one of two things…Join the Standing Rock National Day of Action event being organized in Dover, ND, or, send an email, letter, or call President Obama with an urgent message to end progress on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

See act@credoaction.com for location and other helpful information about next Tuesday’s event and how to sign a petition to send to, our still president, Obama.

This matter is a direct federal issue, which Obama (or, if we procrastinate, Trump) can influence, on many levels.

First the sacred, tribal lands in question here are part of a tribal treaty made directly with the federal government, not oil companies or even state governments. The president controls the Interior Department.

Second, the Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the project without due process, is under the direct command of our Commander in Chief.

Third, if not now…with this president…then most likely never…in a pro-fossil fuel Trump administration which takes control on Inaugural Day in January (a cold, cold day indeed).

Slate Magazine’s Will Oremus, reports, “Trump’s stances on climate and energy received shamefully little attention throughout the campaign, partly because he barely bothered to articulate them. His avoidance was enabled by the national mainstream media, whose representatives allowed three presidential debates to come and go without asking the candidates a single direct question about what might be the most pivotal issue of our time. Nonetheless, his views on climate change are clear to anyone who cares to look for them.”

And, that is the point, really, isn’t it?

The media, our national, so-called, “free press,” did precious little to call either candidate on this question, the single most important issue affecting the country and the world, down to the “Seventh Generation.”

Grieve over the election results all we want, we cannot stay in that limbo of a first grieving stage called “denial.” We would be fools to hook our hopes on the stage called “bargain,” and we cannot resign ourselves to the last grieving stage of “acceptance.”

We cannot simply “accept” a Trump-cated view on climate change, or, any of the issues so long fought for, such as Native American rights especially over sacred lands designations, civil rights, equal pay, equal treatment, gender equality, equal education and a step up on health care coverage.

Our, “one nation, under God” IS divisible when it is not “with justice for all.”

I am told by therapists that when we believe we are threatened, or sense fear, our responses are  “flight, fight or freeze.”

As for “flight”, we cannot, must not, go anywhere. We cannot afford to simply “freeze” as these rights and progressive policies are dismantled around us. Which leaves but one response, “fight.”

Thousands in the street of our country’s major cities, in protest over Trump’s electoral (but not popular) win, are, in a way, giving voice to the “fight” option. We all know, however, this too is likely to evaporate like the “Occupy” movement, because what unifies them is  being”anti-Trump” – with no pro-active steps toward positive change.

Trump calls his win the beginnings of a “movement.” But, there is a spoiler in the game, something Bernie Sanders termed, “a social revolution.”

“Make America Great AGAIN,” infers Trump wants to revert back to some past glory days, and be that “again.”

Revolutions always go forward…toward what has not yet been seen or even imagined. It is organic and grassroots in the face of intimidation.

So, if we are to have a real, social revolution…let it begin at Standing Rock.

This event, Tuesday, will be perhaps the FIRST social action since the election. The first opportunity to stand up to the new regime about to be visited upon us all. God help us!

Yours always,

The Unlikely Student




The Bottom Line of All Lines


We hear Triple Bottom Line these days, a new mantra for corporations and non-profits as they declare themselves equally committed to planet, people and… profit.

However, say skeptics, how does one measure planet and people impact? They are not “profit” centers, after all.

Do people and planet follow healthy profits, as in philanthropy, or, do “people and planet” concerns guide product and service decision making which then generates the profits and benefits the entire global economy and…yes…the eco-systems too?

Perhaps this is the time to simplify the matter…To say the “M” word. To acknowledge the true bottom line of all lines is something called the Moral Imperative.

Peter Sinclair, a world-renowned videographer, was the featured presenter at an event this week in Grand Rapids, Michigan called ” This is Not Cool” – a climate change 101 session punctuated by video clips of the world’s foremost scientists on the topic. It was sponsored by Local Futures, The Sierra Club, Fountain Street Church and other local chapters of national organizations.

I asked my son, Issac, a 12-year-old, seventh grader, and member of his school’s Media Team to join me. He graciously did, perhaps our of curiosity, but more because he wanted to see an example how video is used to present compelling stories that don’t preach but simply and plainly relay the facts. We were not disappointed.

What I came away with was a convicting spirit that indeed climate change is no longer reversible and that our only hope is to slow its progress.

Translation – sea levels are rising faster than most coastal cities and civilizations could have imagined a decade ago.For all of us…the evidence is here…the writing is on the wall (of glaciers) and breathed hot into our lungs by more frequent, more devastating wild fires.

Isaac and I were drawn into the urgency and the insanity of how we got to where we are. We left with a sense of foreboding, yet some flicker of HOPE.

I clung to one of Sinclair’s points, as he conclude his multi-media talk.

“Climate change finally resonates as a moral issue,” Sinclair believes, adding, we’ve got to frame the climate change issue as a “moral, ethical argument.”


As the Native American saying goes, “What we do today will impact to the Seventh Generation!”

The question then is, “Do we, in our time, realize how to frame the moral argument?

If yes, is there enough “moral fiber” left in our generation, and for that matter around the globe, to care? Or, have we eaten the processed, fiber-less, empty consumer’s life for so long that we do not recognize the fact that “globalization” is nothing more than global “corporate-ization!”

For my son Isaac’s sake, and all our children down to the Seventh Generation (should we as humans on this planet survive so long) I will ride the moral imperative horse until I drop…and when I do, my hope is that another rider takes my place.

For more from Peter Sinclair, Google “Climate Denial Crock of the Week”

Yours truly, and always,

The Unlikely Student