An Open Letter to PA Senator Pat Toomey, RE: Betsy DeVos

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Below is a letter that I sent to Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey today following not only his disappointing vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education despite how almost laughably unqualified she is, but also for his extremely disappointing treatment of his constituency in recent weeks. 

This letter has been slightly edited to protect personal information. I am going to also openly state that I am not interested in and will not approve comments attacking me for my beliefs. Education should not be political. Education is about doing the right thing. I will not host political battles here.

Senator Toomey,

I hope that you or someone in your office will actually take the time to read this, though I have my doubts based on your recent treatment of your constituency. We now know who owns you, and it’s the people making large donations to your campaign — NOT the Real Pennsylvanians who have been reaching out to you and whom you have been completely shutting out, fingers in ears, shouting “lalalalalala I can’t hear you! You aren’t real Pennsylvanians!”

I AM a real Pennsylvanian, Senator Toomey. I was born in Altoona, grew up in Hollidaysburg, graduated from Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School, and attended college at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, where I studied English and writing, and earned my secondary teaching certification. After a brief stay in Virginia, I wanted to come home to Pennsylvania. I presently reside in Montgomery County.

This is the truth: my earliest memory is of being 3 years old, crawling up onto my dad’s lap, and asking him when I could go to school. My parents put a chalkboard in our basement and I would line up my stuffed animals and pretend I was their teacher. When I finally got to school, I loved it. At home, I wanted to play school all the time. I’ll be honest, I didn’t love math, but being at school inspired me. When I was in third grade, my teacher, Ann H-M, inspired me so much that it was then that I decided I was going to become a teacher when I grew up.

And so I worked hard. I paid careful attention to the issues facing public education. I started doing practicums and classroom observations during my freshman year of college and throughout those 4 years, culminating with my student teaching in the Midd-West School District in Middleburg, Pa. You may have heard of this district before, as last night Senator Casey told the story of a student there named Brandon Bitner who committed suicide after being bullied for his sexual orientation.

I am no longer teaching, but I have never stopped valuing and championing public education.

With all due respect, sir, you are not an educator. You are a politician. Politics do not belong in education. You don’t and can’t truly understand the issues that students and teachers are facing. You think you can, but in the words of Atticus Finch, “you never really understand a person until you understand things from his point of view… until you crawl into his skin and walk around in it.”

Sir, I would request that you go out and spend some time in public schools shadowing our teachers. See the issues they face. See if you really believe that charter schools, vouchers, and disemboweling public education are the answer. They are not. Emphatically, I say that they are not.

Today I sat glued to C-SPAN, hoping against hope that you would do the right thing. After all, this is not really about politics. This is children that we’re talking about. This is our future. How can you put party lines on it? How could you say it was less important than a $50,000 campaign donation? Education, at its core, is about doing the right thing.

Today you failed to do the right thing. And when I heard you vote yes, I filled with rage and then with sadness. You never wanted to hear the people of Pennsylvania. You only wanted us to think you did, but you blamed the overwhelming response on people who weren’t Pennsylvanians, which, while I’m sure those from other states were contacting you, was not the truth. Real Pennsylvanians have been trying to reach you.

And you failed us. You failed us, and you failed our children. You voted to fail our future.

Again, this should not have been a political vote. This should have been a vote to do the right thing. If you couldn’t clearly see how unqualified Mrs. DeVos is, I have to question your intelligence, as well as your competence as a Senator.

Like you, Mrs. DeVos is not an educator. She has no experience in public education, never attended public schools, and she never sent her children to them, either. She is a threat to these schools with her lack of knowledge. She may be a wonderful person, tossing out dollars and hiding dark money, but how embarrassing for our country that someone so uneducated and so uninformed, someone so ineloquent and inadequate with her responses to basic questions that college freshmen studying education could answer, will now be leading education in our country.

And so I wanted to tell you how disappointed I am not just with your vote, but with your decision to ignore your constituents, especially those of us who have not only benefitted from but also worked in public education and could have given you — and wanted to give you — useful feedback.

You may be banking on us forgetting about this in 6 years when you hope to be re-elected, but I promise you that I won’t. And I have just made it my goal to make sure that no one I know forgets. You may think I am only one voice, but you upset a lot of voices today, Senator. Please remember that there were also scores of Republicans against DeVos. You ignored all of our cries. We will not forget.

We will not forget how we tried and tried for weeks to get through to you and you froze us out. We will not forget how you accused us of not being real Pennsylvanians. We will not forget how you posted to Facebook the day before the DeVos vote and asked for our opinions, saying that your other channels were overcrowded with outsiders (which was not true. They were overcrowded with those Real Pennsylvanians who were desperately trying to get you to listen), and how you received over 30,000 responses on that post, and still ignored all of us.

And we will certainly not forget how you behaved so cowardly, not lending a voice to the people you were elected to serve. You should be ashamed of yourself for the platform of lies on which you are now operating. Please just admit that you really don’t care what we think and that you aren’t interested in representing us. That is your job. In any other job, your actions would be grounds for termination. We want Senators who will listen to us and work on our behalf. You are clearly not that person, so at least now we know (in case there was ever a question). I do not and cannot respect this kind of behavior from my elected officials.

Thank you for your time,

R.

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