The Education of the Secretary of Education

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.

#StopCPScuts: Public education and public under attack in Chicago

Moody’s lowered the bond rating in Chicago. Which means that they believe Chicago cannot be fully trusted to pay back all the money loaned to them in bonds. It’s rich folks talking to more rich folks about how they should spend their money, as my sometimes mentor Don Washington explained to me today. He’s got a great take on it and you should read it because he’s much more knowledgeable about public policy and this stuff than I am, and he speaks in the dual gravitas of a policy wonk and an experienced community activist.

But I just wanna focus on Rahm’s solutions, as they are typical to neo-liberal and conservative tax policies. The solution for taxes for conservatives is always lower taxes. Neoliberals like Rahm don’t necessarily believe that, but their rich allies may. And neo-liberals will side with their allies. Knowing that he can’t bleed more property taxes out of landowners as the rates that have been exponentially raised the last decade, Mayor Emanuel ignores the incredible junket of taxes that are already at this disposal in the slush TIF funds (more than half of the near half a billion dollars put into these funds – largely from downtown and rich areas are taken from money that is supposed to – and that taxpayers are told do – go to the schools. That’s $250,000,000 per year. And we wonder why we’re at this crisis.), and he ignores the tax breaks he gives to the wealthy (like DePaul University which he is buying valuable land for, turning it tax free in the process, and then leasing it to the school – a stunner of a revelation coming out as it did at the same time 49 schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods were being shuttered).

cps protest arrest

So how does Chicago’s City Hall respond to a financial/economic crisis they’ve created? As always, by punishing the workers and the poor. And Rahm responds by firing thousands upon thousands of teachers and crowding classrooms – after closing fifty schools in one year! Because that’ll make middle class families want to stay and relocate in Chicago. And prepare black and poor students for the middle class world which is quickly dwindling.

I see were this is going. We’ll be talking more about this through the week. For now, please read my storify on the demonstrations and attendant thoughts:

#StopCPScuts: Public education and public under attack in Chicago

  1. We need a school board elected by parents and held provincially #stopcpscuts
  2. If #cpsboard cuts 20-25% of budget in #cpsschools, we cut 20-25% of their pay. If they close 49 schools, we close them! #stopcpscuts
  3. 2nd flr City Hall is filling up fast with parents, students, and activists to #stopcpscuts
  4. Each year, more than a quarter billion $$ are taken from #cpsbudget by TIF funds, w/ most earmarked for rich developers & corps #stopcpscuts
  5. Representing the 35th Ward and Darwin School. Remembering Von Humboldt School, RIP. #stopcpscuts
  1. Our children are being hurt and targeted all over the land and thru us by White/Rich Supremacy #stopcpscuts #justice
  1. Ald Maldonado is speaking against militarization of immigration. Wants to militarize school. Parents are angry, rightly
  1. Chicago has TIF surplus of possibly 1.8 BILLION dollars. Give it back to schools and #stopcpscuts!!
  2. We need teachers in the Fall! Not more money for DePaul! #chant @ctulocal1 rally #stopcpscuts
  1. Rousemary Vega, #CPS parent who held sit-in at Lafayette Elementary, forced out of #CPSboard mtg
  1. “@WBEZeducation Bienen: Structural deficit. We take in less $ than we spend. Either raise taxes, cut expenses, or borrow. #cpsboard” Nope
  1. Again, another false claim by City Hall. There are money but they’re reluctant to use it. May upset plutocrats.


  1. Again, the cuts in public school means direct attacks on not just poor, but now also middle class. #stopcpscuts Don’t think you’re safe, Chi


  1. #CPSboard & #Rahm ARE Zimmermans. And our kids are suspicious.


  1. Maybe he should stop lying! “@CTULocal1 Board President Vitale pleads with CTU President Lewis to stop calling him a liar.”


  1. Trend: When horrible, horrible laws/policies are pushed thru (cf Texas abortion bill, Stand Ground) it allows plutocrats to push other ones


  1. Trend: When it happens to underclass, it’ll then be pushed through up the scale to middle class. We need more #solidarity #cpscuts


  1. White Chicago wasn’t really paying attn when #cpsclosings was happening. But schl cuts will affect their decisions of where to raise kids


  1. 20-25%. That takes out essential programs, art, music, gym, teacher aides, support staff – things that CPS have too few of #stopcpscuts


  1. Diana Arangulo, student: “We want a school board that is not all rich people! Are you listening to me now?” #CPSboard #StopCPSCuts


  1. Student. giving a Declaration of Education. Certain inalienable rights… whether you live on the north side or the south side.


  1. We don’t have money for public schools, but we do for DePaul and Wrigley! YAYYY #stopcpscuts

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