Wednesday, January 18, 2017

DeVos Song and Dance

I am grateful that work kept me from experiencing the DeVos hearing in one long take, like a thousand fingernails being dragged down a twenty-mile chalkboard. So just as I experienced a disjointed hearing, I will share my disjointed thoughts.

The Reviews Are In

Wait! I'm now famous because why..? And who wants to shoot me...?

One of the reasons I'm not doing an in-depth review of the hearing is that I don't need to-- every major news outlet covered it, in some cases tweeting it in real time. Many major news outlets had one or more stories up by 11:00 last night. This may seem obvious, but what was the last education story that got this kind of blanket coverage? Maybe the Scopes Trial?

And the coverage was pretty honest, ignoring for the most part the shmoozing snoozefest that was the GOP massage of the candidate. NBC went with the headline "Education Pick Betsy DeVos Will Not Rule Out Defunding Public Schools" which is both shocking and true. USA Today says "More Questions Than Answers." This morning, millions of Americans can easily find accounts of the hearings or watch the clips. After all these years, an education story is getting broad play.

Missing the Wait Time

The bizarre choice by Lamar Alexander to protect DeVos by limiting question time didn't just save her from having to answer more questions. It took away all wait time.

Imagine, for instance, if that moment in which DeVos is ignorant of the fundamental argument about proficiency vs. growth-- imagine if Franken had had the time to let her just sit there in stammer-punctuated silence, searching for some string of words. Imagine if her vain hunt for the meaning of IDEA had been allowed to stretch into a long painful twist in the wind.

The GOP senators lived up to every cent the DeVos family spent on them, but none so much as Alexander, who protected DeVos from protracted displays of her ignorance.

Oh, That Smile

Somewhere a bunch of dictionary editors are pasting screen captures from last night in to the entry for "smug." That was the look of a woman who knew that this was just a silly little display of theater that would in no way change the outcome, who was vaguely amused by all these little people who acted so earnest, like what they said or did would actually matter. This was the smile of a woman who didn't lose her cool with the Senate grilling for the same reason you don't get angry when your five-year-old wants to show you a picture of a butterfly that she's drawn.

This was the smile of a woman who knew that absolutely nothing was riding on that hearing.

A River in Egypt

You may have been wondering how DeVos would manage to go mainstream with a portfolio of far-right causes at her back like, say, support for conversion therapy for gays and lesbians. The answer, it turns out, comes straight from the Donald Trump playbook-- when called on something you said and did in the past that is now inconvenient to acknowledge, just lie about it.

DeVos tried to pretend that somehow she'd been funneling giant stacks of money to groups whose mission she doesn't really support, or that she doesn't really give money to, or just argle bargle it wasn't me. It's a bold choice because none of this advocacy work is exactly secretive, nor are the groups shy about lauding her for her support. And Guidestar (if you have an account) tells us that the "clerical error" that made DeVos an officer of her mother's group went on for years and years.

Likewise, we are clearly going to be treated to the History of Detroit Schools from an alternate dimension.


Best answer ever. It's the kind of inconsequential fumble that launches a million memes and will most certainly be blown out of proportion (and I will probably help). But it's funny. I need to be armed to protect myself from bears in my classroom. How about very large wild dogs? Rabid rabbits? What about if I want to hunt in my classroom for food? Bears.

What Has She Learned?

It hasn't gotten the kind of play that the exchanges with Sanders, Warren or Kaine got, but I think Betsy's response to Michael Bennet was the most telling, the most important, the most scary response of the hearing. Bennet asked what she had learned about schools and charters from the experiences of Detroit. She could not answer.

The closest thing the woman has to educational experience is being the political muscle behind the Detroit Experiment. The DeVos's are perhaps the only people who are in touch with every major player in that charter revolution, and they've been on top of it for decades. She has served as a self-appointed official of the state of Michigan with education at the top of her portfolio. It is the one card she had to play against the "inexperienced" charge-- and she totally blew it. She has learned nothing. From the destruction of a city's school system, the gutting of educational opportunities for Detroit's poor, she has learned nothing. She felt expert enough to call for the dissolution of Detroit Public School system, but she has learned nothing.

This is one of the big problems with zealots and True Believers-- they do not learn and grow because they already Know The Truth, so no new learning is necessary.

DeVos is ignorant-- and she will stay that way.

Won't Rule Out Defunding Public Schools?

Yeah, we already knew that.

She's Not a Banker

Honestly, there's a very tiny pool of candidates who could answer yes to Warren's "Have you ever overseen a trillion-dollar loan program?" But the fact that DeVos has never dealt with the college loan industry is just one more reminder that this is a woman who has been picked to oversee a part of the country that she has not one piece of experience in. This is not selecting a non-lawyer as a Supreme Court justice-- this is selecting someone who has never seen the inside of a courtroom or ever talked to a lawyer as a Supreme.

I Think She Knows What IDEA Is Just Fine

Folks are talking about how DeVos seemed not to understand what IDEA is, especially the significance that it's a federal law that you can't just "leave up to the states."

I don't think that's what DeVos told us.

I think DeVos told us that she subscribes to this administration's concept of law, which is that it's a set of rules that you may or may not have to actually follow. I think the principle of "It's a federal law but the states can decide whether they're going to follow it or not" is exactly what she meant and exactly what she believes. She knows it's a federal law-- she just doesn't care, or intend to enforce it.

Bad News, Accountability Hawks

The reform coalition that has tried to keep left and right working together for charters and all the rest-- that coalition has been trying to make space around the issue of accountability. To plug that gap, DeVos supporters have insisted that the stories about Betsy's anto-accountability stance for charters is baloney, and she totally wants charter accountability. Well, now there's this:

Kaine: “If confirmed will you insist upon equal accountability in any K-12 school or educational program that receives taxpayer funding whether public, public charter or private?”
DeVos: “I support accountability.”
Kaine: “Equal accountability?”
DeVos: “I support accountability.”
Kaine: “Is that a yes or a no?”
DeVos: “I support accountability.”
Kaine: “Do you not want to answer my question?”
DeVos: “I support accountability.”
Kaine: “Let me ask you this. I think all schools that receive taxpayer funding should be equally accountable. Do you agree?”
DeVos: “Well they don’t, they are not today.”
Kaine: “Well, I think they should. Do you agree with me?
DeVos: “Well no . . . ”
Kaine, interrupting her, said: “You don’t agree with me.”

So that's a hard pass on accountability for charters.

P.S. Screw You, Joe Lieberman

"Best qualification to run education is to know nothing about education" my Aunt Fanny. Yes, and when you are sick or injured, you go looking for someone with no medical experience. And if you need to be defended in court, you look for some guy who's completely ignorant of the law. Remind me to never, ever take this guy seriously again.

Does Your Phone Still Work?

God only knows when the actual vote will be taken, and the handwriting is pretty much on the wall. But that doesn't mean that the DeVos appointment should be a free walk in the park for anyone involved. Call senators. Tell them what a spectacularly lousy choice she is.

And while you're at it, tell your friends and neighbors. Alexander did do us one favor-- by limiting senators to five-minute question periods, he stage-managed a hearing that is available in easy-to-watch short clips. People who would never sit through a four hour video of congressional yammering can totally catch the point from DeVos's five minutes of stammering in front of Sanders or stunned ignorance in front of Franken or bad stonewalling of Kaine. Share.


  1. Lamar Alexander's phone has been busy constantly. Heh.

    (Of course, he may have just had his staff take all the phones off the hook so he didn't have to listen to that pesky ringing. :P)

  2. I'm also worried that if Beesty's nomination is derailed, next up in the batting order may be Hanna Skandera, Jeb! 's FEE pal. She was named New Mexico's secretary-designate in 2011 and remained so for 4 years, because she did not meet the qualifications for the post and so could not be confirmed. A change in the committee finally gave her the confirmation votes needed in 2015.

    If she's the next in line for Secretary of Ed, she can claim her illegitimate New Mexico appointment as "experience".

    Christine Langhoff

  3. Christine is right. Hannah has been a total disaster for New Mexico, although maybe not as total as Betsy has been for Michigan. But basically ANY Donald pick will be bad for education (as would most any Hillary pick have been).

  4. Kudos to Kaine for keeping at her until he finally boxed her into a straight answer.

    "This is one of the big problems with zealots and True Believers-- they do not learn and grow because they already Know The Truth, so no new learning is necessary." So true.