On Education

I did not cry when Donald Trump won the presidency.

Not because I agree with the insane things he says. Not because I believe that he is a good man (not even close). Not because I had any optimism about his presidency. But because, as irresponsible and as selfish as this is, I simply didn’t feel like whether or not he was president would directly impact my day-to-day life. As an Asian female, I’ve already accepted the racism and sexism around me as a fact of life: it was bound to happen from time to time, but I could deal with it. I’d already dealt with it.

I did cry, though, when these things happened:

  • In 3rd grade, I cried when I heard that my bus driver had been fired, because as an English-Language Learner, I did not understand what “fired” actually meant. Instead, I imagined my kindly bus driver tied to a stake and literally being lit on fire, and the thought of this awful cruelty was too much for my 8-year-old self to bear.
  • In 8th grade, I cried when a classmate threw a book at my head for daring to say that David Beckham was ugly. I cried because it was embarrassing. I also cried because my teacher failed to reprimand the book-thrower, who was one of his favorite students. My faith that I could unequivocally trust all my teachers was broken.
  • In 11th grade, I cried when my coach, whom I deeply respected and admired, yelled at me for skipping swim practice. I knew I’d messed up. I knew I deserved it. I cried because I cared so much about what my coach thought of me, and it devastated me to disappoint him.
  • In my senior year of college, I cried when I nearly failed the last finance course I needed to complete my major. I was terrified because failing meant one of two things: 1) that I’d wasted my previous three years’ worth of financial aid and tuition by failing to get my finance degree, or 2) I’d have to somehow pay for another semester to actually complete that degree.

The above events serve to describe the moments that made me as a person. These were the years – my K-12 years, my college years – these were the years that were formative in my development. These were the teachers and educators – for better or for worse (luckily, mostly for the better) – who have irrevocably impacted me.

These were the times when I prided myself on performing well on state and national assessments, unaware of the difference between growth and proficiency. These were the times when I confided in a compassionate counselor about my fear of school shootings, unaware of the bipartisan debate on guns in society. These were the times when I carefully filled out FAFSA, unaware of how crippling student loans could become in a jobless economy.

I’m aware now of these things, and much more – but I’m thankful I didn’t have to be. I was lucky because the system did not fail me: I trusted my family, my teachers, my schools, to seamlessly guide me through my educational journey, and they did. And so even though I was so unaware, it worked out for me: I just concentrated on being a kid, a student, growing up. Because I trusted the system not to fail me.

I am one of the lucky ones, and that is an awful fact.

The gaffes from the DeVos confirmation hearing make me think twice about what it means to trust the system. Sure, it all turned out fine for me – but every single child, every student, should have the opportunity to go through a system that’s built to maximize the probability of their success. With DeVos’s appointment as the Secretary of Ed, this probability is not being maximized: on the contrary, the system will be built against the only users who matter.

How many more will have to worry about progressing in their education because lawmakers are measuring them by metrics they’re destined to fail? How many more will have to worry about a peer bringing a gun to school because lawmakers are unwilling to make the claim that guns have no place in schools? How many more will think twice before taking out student loans because lawmakers have no idea how to structure a service they’ve never had to use, implement consequences they’ve never had to face?

How many more students – the ones who aren’t so lucky – how many more of them will be negatively impacted in these formative years? Because their needs are being ignored? Because they can’t trust the system not to fail them?

Maybe I should have cried when Donald Trump won the presidency.

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