Op-ed

Betsy DeVos got a giant ‘F’ on her test to be America’s education secretary

I didn’t know much about Betsy DeVos when she was first announced as Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education. I knew she was super wealthy and that she believed in school choice. While I understand the arguments against school choice, I don’t think it’s the worst idea. A few friends of mine have benefitted from being able to go to public schools in different districts, and having it as an option could help others as well.

Then I watched the hearing.

How can a woman who’s been working in education for decades not understand the debate between proficiency and growth? What’s so difficult about answering a question on equal accountability in our schools for our disabled children on a national level? Did she really bring up grizzly bears in response to a question on whether or not there should be guns in school, and then follow it up with the most tepid “my heart bleeds for the children” comment while completely evading a real, legitimate answer to a thoughtful question? (Pro tip: if you truly give a sh*t about whether or not there are mass shootings in school, have a solution to the problem, not a “thoughts and prayers” response. ESPECIALLY if you’re going to be in charge of our nation’s school system.)

The woman is incompetent, and that’s dangerous.

It’s dangerous because she will lead with policy that might sound good on paper but is a disaster for future generations. It’s one thing to say that “nothing is ever free” in response to Senator Bernie Sanders‘ question regarding free college tuition, but it completely overlooks the fact that back in her day, you actually could work your way through college with a minimum wage job. That’s just not an option now. It also doesn’t speak to just how necessary a college degree has become in order to get a job — any job — which puts those who can’t afford the education at a distinct disadvantage.

There’s another serious issue to consider with college education, and that’s the GOP’s overall attitude (and our incoming President’s attitude) towards the Department of Education. Betsy couldn’t answer certain easy questions — like Senator Tim Kaine’s relative softball about whether special needs kids should have access to equal opportunities, for example — because she’s setting the stage for a much smaller Department of Education and a future in which most things are run at the local and state level. Strict constitutionalists point out that there is no precedent for a Department of Education in our founding document. I point out that Texas got rid of critical thinking as an aim for their educational standards several years ago. Someone needs to oversee that, because if left to their own devices, some schools will teach science and religion in the same freaking class.

All the above means that when these kids graduate high school, they will have incredibly different levels of education based on where in this country they went to school. They will be sitting in the same college classes, and the professor will be expected to teach to all of them. A college education suddenly means much less if a professor has to reteach information to students that these students should already know. Without a federal standard, that is inevitably going to be a result of education left up to educators at the state and local level.

Another theme that continues to come up in the GOP’s approach (and, by extension, DeVos’s approach) to education is market competition. Education will improve, the idea goes, if there is heavier market competition.

If anything proves we need someone more competent and knowledgeable to be our Education Secretary, it’s the idea that capitalism is the answer to literally every problem. Only someone with a tenuous grasp on economics, nuance, and the education system in general would think this was the way to run our schools.

Unbridled capitalism, with no regulations or checks in place, will screw disadvantaged people over. In an educational environment, this could have disastrous consequences. Some charter schools in this capitalism-over-all environment we’ve cultivated close halfway through the school year, taking the money they’ve made and leaving those children in the lurch. Some school districts will have brand new, state-of-the-art everything. Others will have 45 kids in a classroom and decades-old textbooks. It’ll be great to give choice to the students who want to get out of their districts and have better options available to them, but that is a short-term solution.

DeVos has no ideas on how to improve schools that are falling behind. She is content to help a handful of students in those districts find better education and then continue to let the problem rot.

If education is the way to better opportunities, the Secretary of Education is one of the most important roles in any administration. This kind of attitude, one that is content to scratch the surface on certain issues rather than dig deep, one that is interested only in helping those who need help the least, is only going to widen the gap between the rich and the poor.

DeVos, with her billions of dollars and her callous comments about how “nothing is free” in response to concerns about rising college tuition, couldn’t possibly care.

Featured image via YouTube

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