BY THE PEOPLE …

betsy-devos-x750

If you watched the Department of Education confirmation debate between Elizabeth Warren and Betsy DeVos, and your first thought was, “Man, this DeVos lady has no clue! Elizabeth Warren is taking her to school. This is utterly frightening …” then you have completely missed what is happening right now. In fact, as I watched Ms Warren run circles around Ms DeVos, with numbers and figures and quote regs chapter and verse, I realized that she, herself, has no idea what is happening right now.

She still thinks this is about qualifications and resumes. But what’s happening right now is not about any of that. Elizabeth Warren, in her well-prepared, intelligently laid out, sound-byte-savvy banter, showed herself to be obsolete in a world that has just changed. She just doesn’t realize it yet. Let me explain …

I was cautiously optimistic eight yeas ago, when Mr Obama took office. I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I was a little afraid of his socialist leanings (by his own admissions, in BOTH of his books). But sometimes, on the campaign trail, he sounded downright Reaganesque. So I watched and waited …without judgement.

Then, in March of ’09, he made a speech that solidified who and what he was. In that speech he said, “some things only government can fix.” And he went on to tell us how much we needed government and how much it needed to be a part of our lives. Then, he went on to appoint 45 “czars” (all ivy leaguers and political philosophy folk) above and beyond department heads and cabinet positions.

At that point I knew what Mr Obama was …a political theorist and a “statist.” And in fact, a lot of his presidency was as much political theory as anything: If you put the smartest people (with the right mind sets) in the right positions, things work better. And “average” people’s lives will benefit. Because we’re all really smart and we will take care of all of you who aren’t all that smart.

But the truth is it didn’t really work out that way. Because there’s theory …and there’s reality.

I’ve been watching Mr Trump’s actions closely …again, without judgement. I’ve been very intrigued by the steady stream of disparate mind sets being ushered in and out of that golden tower in New York. Everyone from Leo DiCaprio to Mitt Romney; Henry Kissinger to Kanye West. I’ve been asking myself, what is happening here? And then I remembered …

There’s something called the “8-year-old” pitch. When you’re pitching a product or a business idea or just a concept to someone, many times the potential investor will say, “explain this to me like I’m an 8-year-old.” If you can’t explain it to an 8-year-old, it’s probably too complicated or unwieldy. This axiom almost always holds true. And if it’s too complicated or complex …it has to go.

What you’re witnessing with the Trump administration is managed attrition.

He is putting warriors in charge of the military. On the surface, that looks like war mongering. But it’s actually the opposite. People who have been in battle are the least eager to go to war. They know what it really means. So, you’re less likely to speak to them in terms of “battle theory” and more likely to speak to them in terms of “battle reality.” Ironically, more warriors in charge of the military probably means less war. That’s military attrition.

Conversely, he is putting people in charge of domestic government agencies who have NO experience whatsoever in those fields. Believe it or not …that’s actually what I would do. So, instead of someone having a whole bunch of plans on how to expand this or that agency or big new ideas on what this or that agency can do, you have people literally getting the “8-year-old” pitch on the agency itself. When Ms DeVos replied to Ms Warren’s question about a certain rule within the dept of Education, “We’ll be looking at all the rules,” I instantly knew what was happening. Ms Warren still doesn’t.

Someone with fresh eyes, who is not steeped in the inner workings of a government agency, is now going to examine it from top to bottom. They’re basically on a fact-finding mission to determine if that agency should even exist in the first place. These people are smiling and taking the verbal hits from the professional politicians and looking naive on camera. But they’re there to actually audit the government ITSELF.

How many times have I had to explain to an IRS agent, who has NO CLUE how a creative person lives, what I do? How many times have I had to quantify the numbers? We the people have to constantly justify our existence and our livelihoods to our government. Now, it appears as if the government is going to have to justify its existence to us.

I’m not saying this is going to be a good thing or a bad thing. What I AM saying is this government (and all its agencies) is now having to make the “8-year-old” pitch to its citizens. I’ve never seen that happen in my lifetime.

That “fundamental change” you thought you were voting for in 2008? Well, THIS is actually what it looks like.

There’s a movie called “Dave” starring Kevin Kline. A guy who is a perfect doppleganger for a sitting president steps in and “plays” the president, after that president has a debilitating stroke. This regular guy brings one of his business-owner friends to the White House one night. And they sit up and balance the budget over sandwiches and soda …in about 12 hours. They can do this because they have no ties to any of those agencies. They can look at it objectively and say, “why are we doing this? Give me the 8-year-old pitch on this.”

Well guess what? “Dave” is now the president …for real.

There are two kinds of people: those who believe everything should be managed by a government agency …and those who don’t. I fall (more often than not) into the later category. When I watched the Elizabeth Warren/Betsy DeVos exchange, my reaction was, “why on earth does the government have an education agency that filters a trillion dollars a year? What are we getting for that?” Everything else was just noise to me.

Now, I understand there are implications with children with special needs, etc. And I am sensitive to that as a parent of a special needs child.

But I wonder if some of these agency rules and actual federal laws don’t overlap? We shall see. All I know is if ONE person at ONE government agency holds the power over my daughter’s education rights, then that person and that agency both have too much power. And I personally believe that’s what Betsy DeVos is being sent there to find out.

In the meantime, if you don’t like Ms DeVos you are free to write your representative or senator. And you should.

Me? I’m wondering what an average person would find out if they ran one of these agencies for a while. Would it pass the 8-year-old test? I wonder.

As you watch the hearings, if you think you’re watching stupidity in action …think again. You’re watching YOU get the government pitch for its own existence.

My hunch is Betsy DeVos doesn’t get confirmed. The optics are too bad for her. But watch whoever takes her place. I’d be willing to bet they don’t know the numbers and regs and tedious minutia either. And maybe they shouldn’t.

R

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19 thoughts on “BY THE PEOPLE …

  1. I had to chuckle. I have thought about the movie Dave a few times recently. And I get exactly what you mean. Here in NJ and I guess all around the country schools are preparing students for the PARCC tests. Because bigger government needs to know from the tests not how well the children have learned, but how well they are being taught. On the surface it seems good. Until you hear hundreds of parents requesting to have their child not take them. Because if they are having a bad day, or just don’t guess right, they are doomed for the next year and beyond. Too often I have seen the Fed offer money for great programs, only to not fund them the following year. Hey do this, it’s great for your kids. Oh. No worries. Your state can pay next year. Too many years of dead end programs when if they focused on funding schools to let teachers just teach, instead of prepare to take a test. I am hopeful that he gets people in that want to simplify it all. There is no reason it should take months for a simple decision. Is it good for the country. Do we have the money to pay for it. Yes or no. No adding side projects or special perks for some thing a senator wants. Go to work people. We are all watching now.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you Regie, you are so level headed; I need to remember to think with my head and not with emotion. The politicians have had years of practice protecting their agencies/laws/plans, etc. and we, the people, need to become more aware of just how much our lives are regulated and legislated.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are absolutely making me think. Looking at these confirmations from a different perspective is spooky! What if the government was cleaned up by trump?! I keep thinking we may not love trump, but he make the nation lose some weight.

    Sent from my iPhone

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    Liked by 3 people

  4. As a deplorable white women who also works in progressive education where there is no state testing, grading or text books in my school & where the adults teach “tolerance” but all too often fail to practice it among themselves — I wondered about Betsy DeVos. Thank you for your keen insight.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Love the analogy of “Dave”. Absolutely fitting to you piece. I support most of you views and reasoning but disagree about his choice here for the Department of Education. Like “Dave” friend (an accountant), the nominee needs to have some idea about education to help redefine what our country’s education system should be and how it operates. She seems to have none. I agree that government is too big in a lot of our lives and in particular with school and testing and tying tests results to aide. State regulated education is where I believe the answer lies just as it did many decades ago before the federal governments gripped it. Very well written and presented.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you. And nowhere in my piece did I actually endorse Ms DeVos. In fact …I don’t. My only point was that she represents something in government I don’t believe I’ve ever seen.

      It might end up being a train wreck …but it’s different than we’re used to.

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      • I really, really like your thinking here. I don’t know DeVos. Before now, I had no clue she existed. But, your point about the government being audited, having to justify bits of itself to continue those bits – brilliant!

        I am a UX Designer. I have to try to fix / optimize / redesign software for industries I’ve never worked in. Is it impossible? Some days it seems overwhelming. But, it is very possible. It requires empathy and asking the right questions perhaps no one else has thought to ask. Leveraging my ignorance is another great thing. I learn something in return for the challenge. AND, I do believe that if a person is mindful with great reasoning, they can bring the right kind of thinkers together to get more creative outcomes. I see it every day. I don’t see why the government experience can’t mirror that.

        As a citizen, perhaps I’m too hopeful. I just found your blog… I’ll be back for more! Keep up the great writing!

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    • I think you were right toward the end about education being regulated by the states, but wrong about a Secretary of Education nominee needing to redefine what our country’s education system should be and how it operates. Our country shouldn’t even have an education system. The correct role for the Secretary of Education should be trying to figure out just how to reduce the power of the Department of Education until it can be eliminated entirely.

      Liked by 2 people

      • “They’re basically on a fact-finding mission to determine if that agency should even exist in the first place.”

        Hamm made that exact point.

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  6. I do like your insight Regie, but I have to disagree. Yes, Elizabeth Warren is always well prepared and knows some of the inner workings of the Department of Education, but to put her in a box of representing gov’t is doing her a disservice. She’s only been in office for 4 years. Hardly someone I would consider a career politician. So why is asking someone questions regarding the workings of the agency you’re about to LEAD, a bad idea? Regardless of whether she wants to rework things from top to bottom, I would expect her to know a bit about the agency itself and what the job entails.

    I work for a hi-tech company. If we were about to hire a new CEO because the company hasn’t been doing well, I would expect that person to know a bit about our company and our market, what’s wrong with it and what ideas they had to right the ship. And that’s not often explainable to an 8 year old.

    These agencies are complex beasts. Simplifying them isn’t a bad idea but I’d expect someone to know what they’re coming into and have some concrete ideas that they can articulate before I’d be willing to hand over the reigns and entrust them with making it succeed. An 8 y/o explanation might be good to give the general public, but not someone whose about to take on an enormous responsibility. Granted there will be some on the job training needed and she can’t have all the answers up front. But she’s shown no inkling that she has any idea of what she’s getting into and what she’d do. That’s why she gets a thumbs down from me and hopefully the Senate as well.

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    • What if you’re about to do away with an agency? And why are they “complex beasts?” And I NEVER said asking questions of a nominee was a bad thing. I also never endorsed Ms DeVos or disparaged Ms Warren. I only said that I don’t believe she knows what’s happening around her. I’m not sure any of us do.

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  7. Imagine that I am managing a country-blues band, and I need to replace my rhythm section.

    This band is in a slump, creatively and financially, and I see this as an opportunity to breathe new life into the group.

    The rhythm section that left this hypothetical band were all Nashville Cats. They brought a Nashville sound to the band.

    I am convinced that if I replace them with other Nashville Cats, then this will just perpetuate the slump. I am looking for a different sound. I want to come at this from a completely different angle. I want to shake things up. I want fresh ears.

    I could hire musicians from New Orleans.

    I could hire musicians from Mussel Shoals.

    If I really wanted to shake things up, I could hire jazz musicians.

    But I wouldn’t hire someone with no musical experience.

    And I would never even consider hiring a music critic who hates country music and has never played an instrument in her life.

    And neither would you.

    Admittedly, if I hired the unskilled music critic who hates the music my band plays, and put her in my rhythm section, it would fundamentally change the sound of the band. But not for the better. Not even as a happy accident. Not even in a movie.

    Ms. DeVos is a person who is an outspoken critic of a system with which she has no experience… and no relevant skill sets… at all. She’s never been a teacher. Never been a principal. She’s never served on a school board. Neither she nor her children have ever been a part of any public school.

    She is like a music critic that has never even received a piano lesson. And you don’t put that person in your rhythm section. Particularly if she is on record as hating the genre of music your band plays.

    Which brings me to your Dave analogy…

    When Dave wanted to solve a budget problem, he brought his accountant (played brilliantly by Charles Grodin). His friend didn’t just bring “fresh eyes” to bear. He also brought the skill sets necessary to solve the problem at hand.

    Dave didn’t try to balance the federal budget with the help of his auto mechanic or his plumber or his bong-hitting hippie former college roommate who hates the concept of money and makes all of his financial transactions using the barter system (played brilliantly by Tommy Chong, man).

    Trump isn’t doing what Dave did. At all. He is selecting nominees for his cabinet who tend to be peculiarly ill-suited for their position. Seriously, why nominate Ben Carson for HUD? He is a trained surgeon. He would seem to be a natural “fresh eyes” pick for Surgeon General. But, instead, he will run HUD? Oke-dokey…

    And by the way, the reason that Dave and his accountant were able to balance the Federal budget in 12 hours was because it happened in a movie. A comedy.

    The movie “Dave” is to federal economic policy as the movie “Home Alone” is to home security. That movie’s value as an analogy strikes me as severely limited.

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    • Running the department of Education is nothing like playing music. Wrong analogy.

      Music is a passion and an art form. The department of Education is a bloated bureaucracy that might not even need to exist in the first place. It didn’t exist until 1980.

      And once it existed, American education plummeted. It might not require an “expert” at all. It might just require a curious mind.

      And I doubt you’re going to find anyone in New Orleans who could truly replace the Nashville Cats.

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  8. I appreciate your level-headed approach, and acknowledge that you make several very good points. Together, then, you have given me pause to look at this situation a little more hopefully and, for that, I thank you. I would only like to add that your article overall lacks a certain “historical perspective” and, at its core, this is why many American families feel as they do today about Ms. DeVos’ nomination. Her qualifications – or the lack thereof – are not our issue. It is her complete misunderstanding (or disregard) for the laws that have been put into place – and which must be enforced until they are changed or abolished. IDEA and Federal law- while far from perfect – have advanced educational standards for children with disabilities specifically. There has been a 50-year historical change from Institutions to this thing called “inclusion”. Today, even with Federal law and/ or IDEA in place, many still do not understand what that means.
    Why does “inclusion” look like one thing for a particular individual, yet not another with the “same” disability? Now factor in how (or even why) “inclusion” should be implemented for a student – into a classroom/ building/ district/ or state while, on every front, resources are limited? Think beyond finances, even. This involves conversation about staffing, building design, and disagreements about values, ethics and even “quality of life”. Historically, this is our reality.
    Parents of children with disabilities have heard it all, and defending it has become a lifestyle. In 1960, it was a family going against medical advice and taking their son home, rather than putting him into an Institution where he would certainly perish. This baby grew into a man, passing away in 2016. In 1970, a mother walked Kindergarten registration papers into a school building for her daughter who is in a wheelchair – and notices no elevators. She went on to help the American Disabilities Act to become law, even after her daughter’s passing. Today, ADA allows persons like this woman’s daughter to attend school, to have access to bathrooms, and to be part of government proceedings and public shopping nationwide.
    Parents of children with disabilities know that “’cookie-cutter’ methods” are but a starting point. Yes, it is overwhelming and complicated at the Federal level; it only grows tenfold through each step as it ciphers to the single individual. Confirming a woman who cannot grasp the historical notion of IDEA at its highest legal level is scary; it negates the gains made for a vast population over many decades. Now bring the benefits of those larger gains down to the smallest level, to a table of persons writing an Individualized Educational Plan (an IEP) for one student, and there you will surely feel the brunt all that has been realized… and now, perhaps, lost.
    Historically, the disabled have always been first on the “chopping block”. At the IEP table, where “local level powers-that-be” are unknowledgeable about IDEA and more concerned about balancing budgets at the expense of the child at the center of that meeting, hopes get dashed. Dreams gets shattered. A family’s values get questioned as a child’s quality of life becomes part of a discussion – about EDUCATION. This happens – every day in every city – and with the benefit of IDEA and Federal Laws in place.
    This nomination is indicative of a bigger problem. Yes, maybe Mr. Trump IS “doing right” by putting ill-informed and un-political individuals into his Cabinet to “shake things up”. Maybe… but that’s a BIG “maybe”. As Mr. Trump “drains the swamp” by putting alligators and sludge back into the waters, a large number of us are unwilling to take that risk… particularly when it comes to our children, and the future of persons who have always needed more and not less.
    Simply put, Ms. DeVos an AFFRONT to any educational gains that have given an entire group of individuals, and their families, any more than a pinch of validation, a dash of concern or a handful of respect. Someday, you may be sitting in an IEP meeting and you will likely hear the “standard political go-to” that most parents have heard at least once: “If we do (for your child) what you ask, we will have to do the same for all children…. (followed by excuses of time, money, etc….)”. If and when this day comes for you, I hope you have the benefit of remaining calm. I will also encourage you to respond as many of us now do: “I expect nothing less – and, if this were YOUR child, we would not even be having this conversation”.
    This, at its very core, is why the Federal laws and IDEA are mandatory and need enforcement. This is also why Ms. DeVors is clearly unsuited for this position. Ms. DeVors is not part of the movie “Dave”. “Everyone works on Monday” is not her mantra. She is not an “everyone”, and she proudly maintains, in fact, that she is not.
    If you must compare Mr. Trump to the movie “Dave” (perhaps a good starting point, but, please admit, Mr. Trump “jumped the shark” worthy of that comparison long ago), try this line from the movie instead, please:
    “I forgot that I was hired to do a job for you and that it was just a temp job at that. I forgot that I had two hundred and fifty million people who were paying me to make their lives a little better and I didn’t live up to my part of the bargain. See, there are certain things you should expect from a President. I ought to care more about you than I do about me…. I ought to care more about what’s right than I do about what’s popular. I ought to be willing to give this whole thing up for something I believe in.”
    Thank you for your time.

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