The miseducation of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, could mean the disenfranchisement of millions, particularly people of color.
This past Tuesday, Senate members including Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), and Al Franken (D-Minnesota) hosted a series of hearings to interview DeVos on her vision and plan for the nation’s education system. Pertinent education issues included gun control around school safety zones, the proficiency versus growth paradigm, and accountability regarding federally funded schools.
I think I speak for fellow pragmatic minds when I say…well, damn.
DeVos’ lackluster and ill-informed responses went uncomfortably beyond an interviewee lying about their Excel skills to land the job. I can’t even accuse DeVos of being mediocre, because mediocrity would at least imply there was some effort involved. Her deluded responses were complemented with a smug smile that elicited to viewers that she belonged.
As Senator Al Franken alluded to during his hearing, it’s so painfully obvious that DeVos’ family money—her family has donated millions of dollars to the Republican party—earned her a seat at the table, one that is worth $1 trillion dollars and thus, affecting millions of people. DeVos’ incompetence is dangerous, especially at a time when the education gap among Blacks and Whites is steadily closing.
According to Pew Research, in 2014 the U.S. high school dropout rate reached a record low, mainly driven by improvements among Hispanics and Blacks. Based on DeVos’ views, or lack there of, the nominee’s appointment to Secretary of Education could reverse that success.
To add insult to injury, when Sen. Chris Murphy (D- Connecticut) asked DeVos whether she would agree that guns do not belong in schools, her major concern centered around a Wyoming school’s need to protect themselves from grizzly bears. That makes perfect sense because grizzly bear attacks surpass all forms of violence in schools.
According to the CDC, a young Black man, aged 20 – 24, is nearly five times more likely to be killed by a gun than a young White man. In 2013, the CDC also reported that gun deaths vary by type and race. Seventy-seven percent of gun deaths where the victim is White are ruled a suicide. It is the complete opposite for Blacks, as 82 percent of gun deaths are ruled a homicide. Previous Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, dedicated his final speech to gun violence.
Duncan said the “greatest frustration” of his seven-year appointment as Secretary of Education was the failure of Congress to pass more gun control laws, according to the The Washington Post. The former secretary, “fighting off tears,” went on to say, “We have to get guns out of the wrong people’s hands. We have to make sure our babies are safe.” And this wasn’t a new stance for Duncan.
Earlier on in his career in 2008, Duncan responded to the Supreme Court’s pro-Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller by saying, “I’m still trying to figure out who we are more in love with, our children or our guns,” according to Education Week. Note, Duncan’s speech and stance didn’t include any mention of grizzly bear attacks.
And then there was DeVos’ relentlessly redundant and dry response to Sen. Tim Kaine’s question on whether all schools that receive public federal funds should be held to the same standards of accountability. The nominee’s response was…well, accountability. “I support accountability,” DeVos’ repeated four times in a row. To add context, as if it’s needed, that’s equivalent to saying “accountability” when asked to define accountability.
Sixty-three years since Brown vs Board of Education, and schools are still separate and unequal. U.S. News and World Report found that minority students represent 57 percent of the population in “dropout factories.” Ninety-nine percent of the student body are minorities attending these “dropout factory” schools. There’s also an enrichment deficient present in minority-rich schools. U.S. News and World Report also found that teachers at these schools are lower paid, less experienced, and less likely to be certified, which contributes to disparities in course offering. If students at these schools aren’t challenged and have less access to more opportunities to matriculate into college—and thus their careers—then these schools sustain themselves as “drop factories.”
During his tenure as Secretary of Education, Duncan did recognize the inequalities among school districts, and their negative impact on lower income and minority students. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” act actually did leave children behind by spending even more on affluent school districts than districts in lower income neighborhoods. In a call with reporters, The Huffington Post reported that Duncan believed that while federal education funding can’t balance state and local budgets, it can be funneled to help “communities who everyone knows needs additional help.”
In December of 2015, Obama signed the “Every Student Succeeds” act, which expanded the government’s role and accountability in funding public education, with a sentiment to cultivate an equal playing field from the start in classrooms.
While Duncan’s educational policies and tactics weren’t flaw-proof, he did integrate cultural nuances found in communities of color in his approaches. It’s not DeVos’ family money or even her lack of experience that makes her unfit to be Secretary of Education. Remember, Obama didn’t have a long resume of political experience before his presidency. Rather it’s DeVos’ lack of basic knowledge of federal legislation regarding education. She already proved that with not knowing the difference between growth and proficiency, a very common debate among people in the education industry.
Precedents of nepotism and mediocrity are unfortunately a norm in politics. But with Trump’s inauguration today, I’m cringing, and even merely entertaining DeVos as Secretary of Education—is a new precedent of willfully not giving a f***—which will f*** over millions is being rewarded.
Terrence Chappell is a Chicago-based writer. He covers an array of topics ranging from social justice to more brain candy content such as pop culture and infotainment. When he isn’t writing, Terrence works as a social media manager at Burrell Communications.