Never let it be said that Betsy DeVos won't go out of her way to blame US public education for all the ills of the country, real or imagined. In retrospect, it seems like an oversight that she hadn't had a "Kids These Days" moment, but now that omission has been corrected. The young FBI agents are ignorant, and public education is to blame. That's been the headline from this speech, but there's so much more to see.
Independent Women's Forum, an organization founded to provide an alternative to feminism. They actually grew out of the collection of women who formed the "Women for Judge Thomas" committee, a group that got together to defend nominee Clarence Thomas from that scurrilous hussy, Anita Hill. They've been active in opposing various forms of feminism, though they do seem to support the Violence Against Women Act. One of the banners on their website announces that "recognizing progressive privilege is the first step to ending it."
Last week, at their annual awards gala, they handed out three awards. Larry Kudlow was a conservative tv talker picked by Trump to head the National Economic Council. Dana Milbank said Kudlow "may have been more wrong about the economy than anyone alive," but the IWF dubbed him a "Gentleman of Distinction." Kristy Swanson, who was in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, got a Resilience Award.
And Betsy DeVos was given the Women of Valor Award.
So, of course, she spoke.
She opened by referencing one of the founders of the IWF, Barbara Olson, a conservative tv talker who on September 11 was in the plane that slammed into the Pentagon. She was able to talk to her husband before impact, asking "What can I do?" It's a legitimately gut-wrenching story.
"So," said DeVos, "I accept this award on behalf of all women of action."
And here DeVos lays out her general operating philosophy:
We do what matters. We do what's right. And if someone puts something in our way, we find a way around it... or we just plough right through it.
And she illustrates a story with the tale of a mother of a child with Down syndrome who searched for options until she finally helped establish the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program, which is a Ohio school voucher porogram, so "helped establish" is more like "served as a sympathetic spokesperson for."
But DeVos (or her speechwriting intern) knows this audience. "Nothing can stop a mom on a mission," she says, and after reflecting how "as a mom of four and a grandmother of eight" she knows this stuff, she observes that all moms want what's best for their children. "There really is no greater jobn, no greater vocation, no greater calling than to be a parent." This is IWF orthodoxy. Is there some dissonance here? Like, if the "something in our way" is the husband to whom you're supposed to submit, so you still plough right through? Is it okay to skip a few momming duties if you are busy running political operations in your state capital or jetting off to DC to take a high government position? Is it okay to skim over the parts of the Bible where Paul says, "Sit down and shut up, woman. Who let you get the crazy idea you could tell a man what to do?" (I'm paraphrasing.) To be clear-- I don't have a problem with any of these things. I'm just always curious about why women on the religious right don't, either.
But I digress. DeVos is now going to pivot to her favorite points. The state thinks it knows best! The schoolhouse will replace the home! Government "is generally not the solution to any problem. It's generally the problem. Government has never made anything better or cheaper, more effective or more efficient."
Oh, honey. "Never" is a big word, but I'm going to resist the urge to dig out items like building roads and ending slavery and instead focus in another direction. Because DeVos is sort of correct; there is little that government can do better than you-- if you are a mega-rich white person with plenty of political clout and a well-maintained mega-rich white person bubble. Food and transportation and education and even maintaining enough social order so that the peasants don't come burn down your house-- you can provide all of that better than the government can, particularly if you are only going to worry about providing it for yourself. If you think that government is the Little People's way of forcing their Betters to get them things they don't deserve and asking you to help pay, well, then, yes, you are going to sincerely view government as The Problem.
And DeVos sees government as most especially The Problem in education.
So, we are working to dismantle the government social engineering in education.
Her first specific example is Title IX, which has long been a bugaboo of IWF. Well, sort of the example. Because somehow she gets from Title IX to the campus issues related to handling sexual assaults in house, which can include hushing them up. But she doesn't like the process that some campuses use. Also, she finally gets around to what she really doesn't like-- too many things are being called harassment. Also, punishing speech protected by the First Amendment. Okay, at this point, I'm really not sure what the heck her point is. Is she trying to argue that grabbing a woman's butt or repeatedly propositioning her is protected speech? She complains about the University of Michigan's "Bias Response Team," which no longer exists, but the school still employs 76 diversity-related administrators who cost the taxpayers and students more than $10 million!
They focus on every kind of diversity except a diversity of ideas.
Is this starting to sound like one of those white folks complaining that not only does their company have to hire black people, but he can't even call the black people the N word without some kind of big flap happening? Because that's what it's sounding like. But DeVos goes on to complain about the colleges and universities that "have teams of speech bullies with the power to punish perpetrators of hurt feelings." Holy smokes. I mean, even Barack Obama has called out cancel culture, but DeVos is my age, so I know the world she grew up in, and she has to have been exposed to the idea that language has power and that power has been used to the detriment of plenty of folks.
But belt up, because I'm posting an Excessive Irony Alert:
Feelings are important, but learning isn't about feelings. It's about thinking. And it's a willingness to engage with any and all ideas—even ones with which you disagree or ones that aren't your own.
Says the woman who never, ever engages with ideas that she disagrees with. But there's a real reason for that, and it is on my list of Top Ten Reasons That Conservative Religious Folks Can Be Terrible In Government Office:
This Administration won't let students be silenced. We stand with their right to speak and with their right to learn truth.
Truth can be pursued, and it can be known. Students of all ages need the freedom to seek it.
There it is. If you believe that there is One Truth, then your idea of intellectual growth and development is shaped by that. Your ideas of how to govern are seriously shaped by the notion that the people you serve can be divided into two groupos: people who are right, and people who are wrong. At most, you might be generous enough to believe that the second group is "people who are on their way to being right but aren't there yet."
This is the secret of what some people try to call out as hypocrisy. It isn't, because the idea of hypocrisy is that there is one rule to follow and you ought to follow it with everybody, not just some people. But, see-- if you think the world can be divided into those who are right and those who are wrong, you can also believe that there are different rules for dealing with each.
But I digress, again.
DeVos is off next to the lotteries, and how sad it is that some parents enter charter school lotteries and don't win. Because then they get stuck in public schools that don't work.
She pulls out statistics, and apparently she paid attention to responses the last time she used these bogus figures because instead of saying that two out of three students can't read "at grade level," she says here two out of three can't read "like they should." That's both more and less accurate, because it doesn't pretend to mean anything. Who decides what "like they should" (or "as they should," if you prefer correct usage) even means? But then she tosses out "two out of three who do not know--let alone understand--our country's history like [sic] they should,"
55% of high school seniors have "what researchers call" a below basic knowledge of American history. She says they don't know what the Lincoln-Douglas debates were about, nor recognize a photo of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Heck, Betsy-- that's nothing! I know a high-placed government official who can't think of a single time the government accomplished anything well.
And this is where she dropped the headlining Kids These Days. FBI Director Wray supposedly told her that incoming FBI agents "are so young, they don't really know what happened on September 11, 2001." Kids these days!
So many questions. Did Wray blame it on their youth, which would make sense since a 21-year-old would have been two in 2001? But if so, what were schools supposed to do about that? And what does "don't really know what happened" even mean? How people felt and reacted? What the geopolitical causes were? Heck, I can think of highly placed government officials who seem unable to remember which nations were or were not involved in the attacks.
Now it's time to plug her program. It's time to fix America's "antiquated approach to education" with her Education Freedom Scholarship. She bills it here as the "limited government cure for what plagues American education."
It doesn't grow the Federal bureaucracy one tiny bit. It doesn't create a new Federal "Office of School Choice." It doesn't impose any new requirements on states or on families. It doesn't take a single dollar from public school students. It doesn't spend a single dollar of Federal money. And it doesn't entangle schools with Federal strings or stifling red tape.
In fact, it does every one of those things. Someone will have to screen and oversee the various schools and vendors that want to be recipients of these scholarships, as well as screening and overseeing the organizations that turn the contributions into scholarships. It will give families a different set of paperwork hoops to jump through to apply and stay in the program, and it will require states to follow what's happening with the federal-approved dollars. If all of this doesn't require a Federal Office of School Choice, it will require some batch of bureaucrats somewhere to fulfill the same function. All of that equals red tape for schools--and it had better, unless DeVos intends to have the feds stand by as Pure Aryan Academy starts accepting federal scholarship money.
The "not spending federal money" is a cheap dodge. It's not federal money, technically, because the feds never touch it. But if Education Freedom Bux are capped at $5 billion, that means it will leave a $5 billion hole in federal revenue, which means either something gets cut or more revenue is raised somewhere.
So absolutely everything she has said to sell Ed Freedom Bux is wrong, if not simply a lie.
Nor is it efficient or effective. As a commenter pointed out on line, you probably don't solve your historical illiteracy problem by funding schools that teach that humans and dinosaurs lived together shortly after the earth was created 5,000 years ago. Nor will it free up money that DeVos imagines is now soaked up by some "bureaucratic sponge" that stands between students and their education. If anything, an increase in the number of education providers means an increase in the number of administrators, and when administrators are trying to turn a profit for their edu-business (because it is education flavored businesses that DeVos imagines proliferating), they are about the spongiest thing out there.
But hey-- Jeanne Allen at least should be happy:
I like to picture kids with backpacks representing funding for their education following them wherever they go to learn.
That reminds me-- if you have a chance to see Backpacks Full of Cash, do so.
Education—how and where students learn—should be determined by students and their families. Because it's about them. It's about developing their abilities and pursuing their aspirations. It's about their futures, and it's ultimately about ours.
Nope. Students and parents are absolutely stakeholders in education, but so are all the other citizens of this country-- and not "ultimately." DeVos is consistent-- education, like other government-provided amenities-- should be the individual's problem to solve. This is faux freedom-- the freedom to worry about your own education, your own health care, your own wages and working conditions, your freedom to manage your life without any help from anyone. Why does DeVos want your education to be "efficient"? Because then it can cost her less, because ideally she'd like to pay $0.00 to educate your children.
She wraps up with some blessings from God, and we're done. I've skipped a few points along the way, but you get the idea. Hard to believe this is the person responsible for overseeing US education.