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A teacher asks Georgia's senators: Why did you support Betsy DeVos?

Georgia teacher Lawrence J. Burns shared a letter he sent to Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue about their endorsement of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education:

I am deeply disappointed to learn you voted in the affirmative to make Betsy DeVos Secretary of Education. I had contacted you previously and asked that you not support Ms. DeVos. I will not rehash my previous correspondence. Suffice to say you voted to affirm an abundantly unqualified individual. The fact it took a historic tie-breaking vote by Vice-President Pence to affirm Ms. DeVos speaks for itself.

I teach AP European History here in Georgia. Allow me to draw a parallel from history that illuminates, I believe, the folly of your vote. One of the great questions historians have wrestled with over the centuries is the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE. As with most events in history, there are numerous theories as to why. One of the things that weakened the empire was that the vaunted Roman legions, in many instances, became more loyal to their individual commanders, as opposed to the Roman Empire itself. Like many of the Roman legions, you chose to be loyal to the Republican Party, as opposed to your country.

I find it ironic Mr. Trump won the presidency with the campaign slogan "America First." As a Republican senator, in affirming Ms. DeVos, you most certainly did not put America first. You simply cannot make any intellectual polemic to justify your vote. This was a pure political vote on your part. A vote, mind you, about America's schoolchildren.

In 1943, when patriotic fervor was at its apex during World War II, the Supreme Court rose up and did the right thing when they ruled public schools could not force children to rise and say the Pledge of Allegiance—the children involved were Jehovah’s Witnesses. The case was West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. In the waning days of the Watergate scandal, it was Republican leadership in Congress that rose up and told Republican President Richard Nixon for the good of the country, he simply had to step down.

I share both of these with you to illustrate how a Republican Congress and the Supreme Court rose up and did the right thing. In the case of the Republican Congress, they put country before party in opposing Mr. Nixon.

It was with great difficulty I was able to get through to your office this past weekend. The volume of calls leads me to believe I am not the only constituent disappointed by your vote. As such, I would like to make a couple of requests of you.

First, would it be possible for me to obtain copies of the tally sheets compiled by your staff in reference to the DeVos confirmation? Secondly, would you be willing to participate in a public debate with me over your vote. I would be willing to participate at the venue of your choice here in Georgia.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.