I didn't want to cover that damnable 60 Minutes speech any further, but I need to make this point because all the folks who are just pointing and saying "Har har! DeVos is so dumb!" are really missing a crucial point.
I'm talking about this specific quote from the interview:
I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them.
And we can set this one, in response to the question about disparate and racist responses to student misbehavior, right next to it:
Arguably, all of these issues or all of this issue comes down to individual kids. And--
--it does come down to individual kids. And--often comes down to-- I am committed to making sure that students have the opportunity to learn in an environment that is conducive to their learning.
DeVos has consistently said that she favors individuals over institutions, and she has tried to frame all her discussion of education in terms of individual students. Take this construction:
Well, we should be funding and investing in students, not in school-- school buildings, not in institutions, not in systems.
Why say something like that over and over?
Because it plays better than saying, "We should defund public schools."
Why keep making these ridiculous responses about individual students instead of looking at the system?
For the same reason that government officials are forbidden to say "global warming." For the same reason that the use (or non-use) of the phrase "radical Islam" became a hot-button issue.
DeVos hesitates to talk about all schools in general because she if she did, she would have to acknowledge that they exist, and she doesn't want to-- she wants to frame education as something that has to do with individual students and not with taxpayers and not with education professionals and certainly not with the public schools that she would like to get rid of. She is saying very plainly that families and students are going to be on their own, and if that means, for instance, that black kids get unfairly hammered by whatever rules are in place, oh well, that's too bad.
She would like to rhetorically erase the idea of funding public schools and a public school system because she would like to actually erase the practice itself.
Yes, her attempts to reframe the issues of education are clumsy, partly because, stripped of her checkbook powers, she is a terrible, terrible persuader. And mostly because her idea is a really dumb idea, and rhetorical tricks will only get you so far when you're trying to sell a really dumb idea.
But it's not a set-up for a joke.
On the one hand, I'm glad that the mainstream has finally noticed some of these issues (seriously-- I'm glad folks were struck by the whole "taking money away from struggling schools is kind of dumb" thing, but some of us have been saying it for twenty years). But on the other hand I feel like I'm watching people who are being told by an assailant, "I am going to punch your children in the face" and people are reacting like this is a hilarious joke, but not, really, that assailant is really getting ready to punch your children in the face, and he just told you he's going to do it, and maybe you should do something other than make jokes about it.