Education Secretary Betsy DeVos used a picture available on Shutterstock as an example of bad teaching practice in U.S. schools today — and teachers are accusing her of misrepresenting their classrooms.
DeVos on Tuesday published a tweet that said classrooms look the same as they did many years ago, and she used “then” and “now” photos to underscore her often-stated contention that public schools in the United States have not innovated since the Industrial Revolution more than a century ago (see the tweet below). The “now” picture is available, royalty-free, on Shutterstock.com; it is the first picture that appears under the search term “classroom.”
The photos and language in the tweet came from a presentation she made on Tuesday at the SXSW EDU conference in Austin:
Pictures are said to be worth a thousand words. Here’s one operating room from the 1800s. Here’s what today’s looks like. This was yesterday’s general store, and here is today’s. Here’s yesterday’s classroom, and today’s.
The vast majority of learning environments have remained the same since the Industrial Revolution, because they were made in its image.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? Students lined up in rows. A teacher in front of a blackboard. Sit down; don’t talk; eyes up front. Wait for the bell. Walk to the next class. And … repeat. Students were trained for the assembly line then, and they still are today.
Everything about our lives has moved beyond the industrial era. But American education largely has not. We can see its effects in the data.
DeVos routinely attacks public schools as being hidebound and has made clear that her top priority is expanding alternatives to traditional public schools. She has made similar statements to her remarks at SXSW EDU, including in a speech she delivered to students and school staff in September at the Woods Learning Center in Casper, Wyo.
Most students are starting a new school year that is all too familiar. Desks lined up in rows. Their teacher standing in front of the room, framed by a blackboard. They dive into a curriculum written for the “average” student. They follow the same schedule, the same routine — just waiting to be saved by the bell. It’s a mundane malaise that dampens dreams, dims horizons and denies futures.
This time, though, after DeVos published her tweet on Tuesday, teachers reacted on Twitter, many of them with anger.
They noted that, in fact, many public schools are radically different than they were way back when, and that even basic classroom design is not what she says it is.
Some also noted that the rigid classroom design that DeVos laments in her tweet and in speeches can be found in many of the charter schools that she has championed over the years. And they attacked her for using a Shutterstock photo that was staged.
Here are some of the responses: