A Tale of Two Cities?

PHOTOGRAPH BY JABIN BOTSFORD / THE WASHINGTON POST VIA GETTY

PHOTOGRAPH BY JABIN BOTSFORD / THE WASHINGTON POST VIA GETTY

by Edward Underwood

If you live in Washington, DC for any period of time, the city and federal governments begin to morph into one in your mind. It’s impossible not to know folks who work for both, keynote speakers at events hail from government, and at least a neighbor or two is a government employee. Whatever the reason, it’s easy to see the two as one. And in this city, they sometimes are.  

There was an irony in the most recent appointments that rocked the education world and the city of Washington D.C. in recent days.  President-elect Trump selected Betsy DeVos to head up the U.S. Department of Education and DC Mayor Bowser selected Antwan Wilson as the new Chancellor for DC Public Schools. These picks represent vast differences and a few similarities and I find myself more happy about one than the other.  Trump’s selection of DeVos seems troublesome for many across the country while the selection of Wilson has been met with a sigh of relief and enormous hope for the future of the D.C. Public Schools system. As a resident of our nation’s capitol, it feels like we’re going to have a tale of two cities.

While both DeVos and Wilson are strong supporters of school choice, Wilson believes in accountability for all schools, including charters. Devos doesn’t seem to believe the same. Wilson believes in ensuring our children have high academic standards that are consistent with other states and schools across the country like we see with Common Core while DeVos is opposed to Common Core.

Wilson is a Black man who comes from a meager upbringing and has led the Oakland public school system in a way that has made the The majority of their schools are filled with low-income students of color – much like Wilson. DeVos is a white woman of privilege and wealth who has been in a position of influence for more than thirty years in the state of Michigan.

It’s hard to believe that the head of an organization that funds the blocking of charter school accountability is the right person to head a national education system and I worry that some in power have an agenda to champion choice regardless of quality. And perhaps even more concerning has been the positive response from school choice organizations, including black ones, about the DeVos appointment.

However, as the father of two children who attend a traditional public school in DC, I am both happy and proud to see a Black man coming to my city to lead the education of our children. It’s about time we had some brothers in this type of leadership role. I’ve researched Antwan Wilson since he was named as our next Chancellor and I really like what I’m reading and learning. He not only seems to be a strong advocate for our children, I feel like his heart (and head) is in the right place. He seems totally focused on ensuring that all of our children have access to high-quality educational options and that our schools and educators are working on behalf of our children to provide them with all that they need and deserve.

So, while I am encouraged by where our school system is headed under the direction of Mr. Wilson, I maintain my reservations about Mrs. DeVos. Only time will tell what we will see from both of these education leaders. My prayer is they will both do right by us – parents,  taxpayers, and most importantly, students.

Edward Underwood is a photographer based out of Washington, DC and has been shooting professionally for 10 years. On each journey, he returned with a collection of images - capturing the spirit of the world, its people and their cultures.