Shiny Normal Thing! Actual Educator Miquel Cardona Confirmed As Education Secretary
Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos resigned the day after her former boss incited a mob to attack the Capitol. We haven't missed her, but now it's time to welcome President Joe Biden's new Education secretary, someone who supports education.
The Senate confirmed Miguel Cardona in a 64-33 vote on Monday. Cardona began his career teaching fourth grade in Meriden, Connecticut, where he grew up. Dr. Cardona went on to become a principal and then assistant superintendent of the district before he was appointed as state commissioner in 2019. He is 45.
Dr. Cardona's personal story is compelling. He was raised in housing projects. His family is from Puerto Rico, and he struggled to learn English when he started kindergarten. He graduated from a technical high school and eventually earned his doctorate in 2011. (Yes, he calls himself “Doctor" like a common Dr. Jill Biden.) His dissertation was titled Sharpening the Focus of Political Will to Address Achievement Disparities, an objective that's quite different from DeVos's goal of subsidizing private Jesus schools.
DeVos's 2017 confirmation demonstrated that Republicans don't care much about actual qualifications. All that matters is who'll advance their agenda. GOP senators who voted for DeVos shamelessly voted against Cardona. Practical experience as an educator doesn't resonate with them. Republicans will continue to suggest that Democrats are the elitists who have “abandoned" the working class (that's a lie) while preferring the private-school-educated, billionaire yacht collector to someone with a true working-class background.
Here's Education Secretary nominee Dr. Miguel Cardona shutting down Sen. Rand Paul's transphobic question about sch… https://t.co/7Yvg5HRjin— The Recount (@The Recount)1612369642.0
We can't speak for Dr. Cardona, but we imagine he's proud not to have received Rand Paul's vote after shutting down his transphobic tirade about “boys" (they aren't boys) competing with girls (because they're girls) in school sports.
DR. CARDONA: It's the legal responsibility of schools to provide opportunities for students to participate in activities and this includes students who are transgender.
Paul suggested it was "bizarre" to acknowledge that trans people exist. It's bizarre that someone as gross and bigoted as Paul is a US senator but we accept that objective, if unfortunate, reality.
While DeVos and the previous administration cruelly targeted trans students, Dr. Cardona and the Biden administration will treat all students like human beings. And no, it's not “religious freedom" if a classmate or teacher misgenders a student or claims their parents aren't “really married." Trans students shouldn't have to endure daily doses of Rand Paul (or apparently Mitt Romney, who thought Paul made a “very good point" during his bigoted spiel).
Soon-to-be Secretary Cardona's big task ahead of him is safely reopening schools, which President Joe Biden had made a priority of his first 100 days. Dr. Cardona will have to navigate the concerns of teachers unions and the demands of parents. Neither group is entirely right or wrong even if they are sometimes at cross purposes on this critical issue. Dr. Cardona has called for expanded COVID-19 testing in schools and prioritized vaccines for teachers, although he doesn't consider vaccinating teachers a requirement for reopening. He also advocates for boosting federal coronavirus relief for education.
"If we really want to recover," he said, "we really need to invest now or we're gonna pay later."
Dr. Cardona pushed for Connecticut schools to resume five-day in-person instruction last fall while maintaining a strong relationship with the teachers unions. This elevated him in Biden's search because other candidates were firmly on one side or the other. Dr. Cardona effectively walked the line, something the consensus-seeking Biden would appreciate.
It's impossible to understate how fortunate we are that Betsy DeVos is no longer Education secretary and that we have a committed educator in charge.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."