Betsy DeVos’ silence on the issue of funding this discrimination was deafening

By Takhia Hussein

I am a proud Muslim feminist and a history teacher at a very diverse New York City public school. As an educator, I believe that it’s our role to create a nourishing and positive environment for our students to thrive, no matter their religion, race and gender identity. It’s discouraging and shocking that Betsy DeVos won’t say definitively that federal money will not be given to private schools that discriminate against students. This is an administration that doesn’t fear backlash or consequences for excluding people who are different.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and attending public school is part of the experience of my life. One of the reasons I’m a history teacher now is that the social studies department at John Dewey HS was amazing and that’s where I got the inspiration to become an educator. I was able to try new foods, experiences and cultures — public school allowed me to experience the world.

I wear the hijab, which is such a powerful symbol. When a Muslim woman wears it, it’s something very personal to her. I’m a prime example of someone who’s not what people think when it comes to Muslim women and oppression — they look at me like I’m not free. There’s a lot of ignorance, a lot of wild ideas about Muslims and Islam. When those stereotypes come out, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable to have conversations with colleagues and classmates. They get to know me and know I’m pretty confident; they start to realize that every Muslim person is different; we all have our own personalities.

In Trump’s vision for a nationwide school voucher program, private and religious schools would get funding without any type of federal oversight or regulation, which is pretty disturbing. What are the academic standards for religious institutions? Are their teachers qualified? Do they focus more on religious studies? Our students are trying to compete in a global economy and a global world, and if they’re not prepared for that, it brings up real issues in the future. I fear that we might see a trend of exclusion, too.

We live in a changing world that’s growing even more diverse. And that diversity, rather than being rejected, should be embraced to foster community in our classrooms. In my AP American Politics class, we’re constantly talking about issues of race, gender and social movements. It brings up strong emotions, but when we have these conversations, people are able to connect and understand each other.

In theory, it sounds great to choose the school you go to. But school choice is really misleading and was created to undermine public schools.

Public schools welcome everyone, whereas some private schools have historically discriminated against children that do not fit their mold. Betsy DeVos’ silence on the issue of funding this discrimination was deafening. To think that she is the person who is in charge of our children’s education is shameful.