The wave of activism spurred by Donald Trump’s first two weeks of presidential activity has spread to Philadelphia’s youth. Kids have asked to accompany parents on marches, constructed their own signs and even helped with logistics at rallies.

Over the weekend, Julie Krug’s daughter took her advocacy a step further, and penned a letter to newly reelected US Senator Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

Her subject was not one of the latest controversies to roil American society — not the travel ban or which president had the bigger crowd size. Instead, 8-year-old Mazie was moved to discuss a matter that’s been largely pushed aside by the capricious 24-hour news cycle, but close to the hearts of Philly education activists: Trump’s pick for secretary of education.

“Please do not vote for Betsy DeVos,” she wrote her senator in advance of Tuesday’s confirmation vote. “If you do, her policies will cut public school’s funds.”

What does Mazie think will happen then? “America will be full of unbelievably unsmart people,” she explained to Sen. Toomey.

“When the kids grow up they will be asking each other ‘What is one plus one?’ And all that will because of you and DeVos.”

Toomey has not clearly indicated how he will vote on the appointment of the Michigan billionaire, although he called her a “great pick” in a letter to constituents last December. DeVos is known for her active and vocal advancement of vouchers and charter schools, and is stringently anti-public education. Turns out she has also donated upwards of $25,000 to a Philly-based group with a controversial campus rape stance.

The other US senator from Pennsylvania, Democrat Bob Casey, has come out strongly against DeVos. He released a statement quoting a New York Times article that suggests she is responsible for “a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States” and has said he will vote no at Tuesday’s hearing.

As of last Friday, Toomey’s voice mailbox was full and no longer accepting new messages. So Mazie decided to write him a letter.

The idea was entirely Mazie’s, per Krug, a psychotherapist who lives with her husband and two children in Philly’s Graduate Hospital neighborhood. (Both kids attend the Albert M. Greenfield School, widely considered one of the best in the School District of Philadelphia)

“When I picked her up from her sleepover on Sunday morning, she was like, ‘Mom, I want to write a letter,’” Krug said. She helped her daughter work through some of the spelling and determine if the sentences actually made sense, but the content and construction of the note came solely from the mind of an 8-year-old.

Granted, Mazie is in a position to be better informed about school issues than many other students her age.

Krug has been an active member of Greenfield’s Education Advocacy Committee for several years now. She took her daughter with her when she testified about school funding in Harrisburg last year, and Mazie regularly listens in on her conversations about education with other involved adults. Charters come up often, since many involved in school reform cite the state’s outdated charter school regulations as a reason Philly public schools are still financially hamstrung. (Last summer, John Oliver filmed a segment for his HBO show that included the line: “Pennsylvania has the worst charter school laws in the nation.”)

“I think she overheard me talking [about DeVos] with another parent in the playground,” Krug said.

“I explained how some people believe schools should be privatized, and what that means. We got into a discussion about how charter schools can be really good — she has some friends and cousins who attend — but that sometimes people just want to make a profit.

“I didn’t tell her about the guns in school stuff because I thought that would scare her,” Krug added, referring to to DeVos’ statement during confirmation hearings that guns could be useful to protect students from “potential” grizzly bears.

After Mazie was done writing, she wanted to add one finishing touch — a drawing of DeVos.

“I want to make her look mean,” she told her mom, who pointed out that DeVos almost always has a smile on her face.

But Mazie figured out how to work around the ever-present grin. “I know, I’ll just arch her eyebrows!”

Here’s the full text of the letter (sic), dated 1-29-17:

Dear Senator Toomey,

Please do not vote for Betsy DeVos. If you do, her policies will cut public school’s funds. Public schools will not have supplies, such as workbooks, markers, pecils, dry erase boards, and books and computers.

If we don’t have supplies then kids will not be able to learn. If kids can not learn then they will not be smart. Then they can not be great citizens.

America will be full of unbelievabley unsmart people. When the kids grow up they will be asking each other “What is one plus one?”

And all that will be because of you and DeVos. So please do not vot for Betsy DeVos.



Credit: Courtesy of Julie Krug

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the membership program. She is a former food...