Something good has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. That something good is this: a number of the president’s supporters are coming to realize he is a terrible leader based on the way he is handling the education issue.
The issue that is the most bothering to me is the insistence of our president and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of reopening school K-12. They want five-day-a-week, face-to-face classes.
The second issue is our president’s xenophobic demand that international students with F-1 visas be banned from taking only online classes in the fall while living in the U.S.
DeVos pushed for online classes before she became education secretary, but in order to please her president she has had to support his demand for face-to-face classes. The mental gymnastics she is going through must be horrendous.
This decision affects 56 million American school children in the U.S.
As the numbers of infected have increased with the reopening of the economy, even Republican governors have had to backtrack. Admitting error is not something Republicans do very easily, but panic at the rising numbers has forced them into facing reality.
Historically, Republicans have favored local control. The president is no exception. The issue is that under federalism, states have control of education, not the federal government. Many of the largest school districts in the nation are continuing to plan for students to attend two-to-three days a week with the rest of school given online. Options are available for parents who want to keep their children at home for safety reasons. Since most of the money is controlled by the states, there’s not much the president can do about K-12 education.
The irony is that the president has delegated responsibility to the states to deal with COVID-19, while at the same he is imposing rules and decisions that increase the power of the national government. The president’s decisions are arbitrary and capricious. He’s not concerned with the lives he’s disrupting, only that he may lose the November election. The president knows that unless schools are functioning and children are attending schools, parents can’t return to work. Getting the economy going is his overriding concern. A booming economy was supposed to be his key to re-election – until COVID-19 turned the economy on its head.
From my vantage point as a former high school teacher and an adjunct professor of mainly international students, the president’s pressure on schools and colleges to reopen with face-to-face classes is frustrating and dangerous. School and college administrators have a tough enough task before them trying to educate students in the fall in light of COVID-19 without our chief executive causing even more confusion and uncertainty.
At Green River College where I have taught, international programs are a cash cow. International students pay triple tuition to attend, plus buy books and pay for housing and food. They are good for the U.S. economy because their presence creates a positive balance of trade.
The president has imposed tariffs on many nations because we buy more than we receive, yet his policies may cause the Green River College, as an example, to lose $20 million a year. Based upon data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018.
That doesn’t even count the loss of opportunities for Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian and other nationalities to see U.S. democracy up close.
If you multiply that lost income and jobs over thousands of colleges and universities across the nation, it will only make the nation’s financial woes increase. After facing lawsuits from Ivy League universities and colleges, the White House has backed down.
According to the president’s code, backing down is a sign of weakness, not strength. Yet his acts of desperation fully reveal our president as he really is to all but his most devoted supporters.
I grieve for the lost lives and jobs that have come as a result of COVID-19, but if it has shown to the nation and the world that we have a president too incompetent and too narcissistic to earn re-election for another four years, it may in part be worth it. The more people who vote against our president in November, the less likely we will end up in a civil war.
There is a silver lining to every dark cloud.
Richard Elfers is a columnist, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor.