I was watching that train wreck that was Betsy DeVos
on 60 Minutes
and it struck me that not only is DeVos not bright but how her lack of curiosity
(fitting for a Dept of Education head) is tied to and propelled by both her class status and to her deeply abiding and troubling allegiance to a broken, quasi-religious dogma
Being born and then marrying into filthy rich status as a white person, she has never had to work a real day in her life and (like her boss) never gets told no. While she’s a philanthropist, she has no need to come in contact with the real world outside of superficial photo ops with black children. She can have her perch and live there comfortably unbothered by the effects of poverty, racism, ableism, or the messy masses.
The other point is her faithfulness to an ideology that can be be broken down into two words: Individual & Choice. DeVos has taken Margaret Thatcher’s catchphrase “There is no society, only individuals” and declared it her life verse, a suitable model to run the entire educational system upon. Doing such allows her to not take seriously nor really consider systemic injustice: whether that be sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia, or classism, it doesn’t really matter because we’re all *just* people.
DeVos believes in the neoliberal maxim that the free market is the solution for each and every ailment. In this market framing, the consumer is allowed to make choices between various brands, types, sizes, smells, flavors. The more choices a consumer has, the more likely the consumer can make a better choice to fit their individualist and highly-unique branded lifestyle. It follows from this that the more choices one has, the more likely that person will make the right, fully-informed decision. Herein lies the importance of allowing Nazis to have a platform as it gives another choice for the citizen to accept or reject. It goes without saying that there is no actual solution proffered, just variations.
As if a choice between Frosted Flakes with Extra Fibre (TM) or Granola Raisin Bran can truly offer life. Its ridiculousness should be evident to anyone who isn’t a fanatic, but Free Marketism is a very profitable and dynamic fundamentalist religion with strong in-roads into Christianity. It’s pretty obvious that Betsy DeVos is a true believer in Christian Free Marketism.
Put these two factors together, this unearthed class status and strict dogma along with a general incuriosity of the world and how it works, and who needs data or findings? Who could possibly question this notion that school choice is always preferable to public schooling? Like when she called Historically Black Colleges & Universities “pioneers of school choice.” It’s so self-evidently obvious that there can be no questioning, right? Who needs to study whether it works, because it has to work. And who needs to study the issues and come prepared to an interview with, say, a nationally-televised news magazine or the entire senate chambers, when you have dogmatic soundbites to repeat. Soundbites such as:
- “Empowering… to make choices” – Except that choices in and of themselves aren’t empowering. Why not “empowering… with resources, with money, with access, with direct connections to power”? Why is the only option to remove individual children “stuck” in “poor-performing” schools (or “bad schools”) rather than improve the actual school itself through funding and access to resources?
- “We should be invested and funding in students, not in… institutions.” – What is it you think institutions are? If you honestly believe that institutions don’t serve individuals, please get the fuck out of the public life and certainly out of government.
- “Government overreach.” – Being a neoliberal adherent and a Trumpist, it should be no surprise that one of DeVos’s principal jobs is to oversee deregulation. Somehow, protecting vulnerable students is seen as an error on the side of Big Government, rather than a truly positive aspect.
- “All students [should] have an opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment.” – She repeats this mantra three times. And it works, except for black, trans, disabled, and sexual-assault survival students I guess? In a system where only white, straight, cis-male, wealthy students (and investors) count…
On another note, DeVos is often talked about as the most-hated member of Trump’s cabinet. And while she is bad (and I wouldn’t want to rule out misogyny as a factor in the degree of criticism against her), I have to wonder why this same light isn’t directed at the KKKeebler Klansman, Jeff Sessions, or the Captain Planet Villain in charge of the EPA, Scott Pruitt. Why her? And I think a large part is because she is directly opposing a largely mobilized sector of public employees and that she appears in public spaces much more frequently than her counterparts, so there are more opportunities for direct confrontation. But I don’t think that we should kid ourselves that DeVos isn’t a more intensely evil (if not less equipped) form of an enemy to public schools and the children and adults they serve than Chicago’s own Arne Duncan, her predecessor under Obama.