Opinion

The nightmare on DeVos street

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Thursday that her department will rewrite and replace federal sex discrimination laws to change how universities handle sexual assault investigations. 

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ recent appearance on 60 Minutes made it hard to distinguish between reality and a Saturday Night Live skit. DeVos seems to be lost throughout the entirety of the interview, continuously stumbling over her words as she desperately attempts to portray herself as knowledgeable about the nation’s school systems, failing miserably and hoping to mask her ignorance with a smile. DeVos’ presence during the 60 minutes is frighteningly similar to how Kate McKinnon of SNL portrayed her, but that imitation was a parody meant solely for entertainment. This, disastrously, is the real Betsy DeVos, the real Secretary of Education, and she is just as embarrassing as her SNL counterpart.

Perhaps the most bizzare part of this rollercoaster of an interview is when DeVos outrightly admits her incompetence as a public servant. When asked by 60 Minutes host Lesley Stahl if she had visited the “really bad schools,” DeVos resembles a deer caught in the headlights. Regaining her senses (kind of), DeVos confesses that she has not “intentionally visited the schools that are underperforming.” Most people would correctly assume that a large part of DeVos’ job as Secretary of Education would be to visit underperforming schools, seeing as her department’s official mission is to “improve the quality of education.” Pretty much any other response to Stahl’s question would’ve been better.

But of course, DeVos was not hired on the basis of a glowing resume involving extensive expertise in the field of education, mainly because her only notable, education-related accomplishment is her stealthy involvement in an annual $1 billion worth of Michigan taxpayer money being poured into charter schools that lack proper regulations pertaining to education standards. She doesn’t have experience in education, but she does have a lot of money, a decent chunk of which she has donated to conservative organizations. In addition to her less-than-stellar resume, she has demonstrated a yearning to privatize education and implement religion throughout the nation’s school systems, curiously falling in line with the ideology of far-right evangelicals, many of whom are are unable to afford private, religiously-based educations for their own children. But, Christianity is supposedly involved in DeVos’ plan, so they support it blindly, even if it goes against their own interests.

It seems there is some sort of sickeningly unjust, psychological cycle in place. The conservative poor are unable to afford adequate educations, and consequently make uninformed decisions. This leaves them to rely solely on their religious values and the empty words of those who claim to uphold them, such as the superficial, misleading rhetoric of Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. It is clear that DeVos and the rest of the Trump administration want to maintain and protect that cycle, for it provides them with power. “Keep ‘em poor, keep ‘em stupid” seems to be the new Republican motto when it comes to the issue of education. The conservative elites don’t want public education to be, God forbid, actually educational, because they want to remain superior.

Another concerning highlight from this interview was DeVos’ lack of incentive to protect students who are at risk of discrimination and abuse due to aspects of race, sexuality and gender. DeVos' responses to questions of sexual assault on school property is especially disturbing. When asked if she thinks the number of sexual assaults is equal to the number of falsely accused individuals, she says “I don’t know. I don’t know.” As Secretary of Education, DeVos should know the statistics pertaining to sexual assault on school properties and should be offering up ideas to solve the problem. Instead, she is inclined to admit that she is oblivious to one of the most significant issues in our nation’s school systems.

Though DeVos’ disastrous interview on 60 Minutes is worrisome, it is by no means unexpected, for she has unwittingly displayed her ignorance in the past. In a prior interview, when asked if private schools receiving federal funding should be allowed to discriminate against their students, DeVos said that such decisions are left up to the states, and that parents are “best equipped” to make schooling decisions for their children. Here, it is obvious that DeVos is trying, but failing, to defend her covert support for private schools that have denied admission to students based on their sexuality, like Lighthouse Christian Academy in Indiana, which utilizes state funding.

The answer to the failure of school systems is clearly not to entirely privatize education and promote school choice; it is to allocate more of the federal budget to improving public schools. But DeVos is not a fan of nonprofit, non-Christian schools. She never attended public school herself and sent her own children to religious private schools because she had the means to do so. But, most people are not able to afford such educations and unfortunately, school-choice vouchers won’t be able to close the gap between those with and without access to adequate educations. Despite the Department of Education’s alleged focus on bettering the public school system, last week’s interview demonstrates what was already clear: Betsy DeVos is leading the charge in abandoning it.

Ashley is a freshman intending on majoring in journalism. What do you think about Betsy DeVos' work as Secretary of Education? Send any comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com

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