Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has no discernible ties to Russia or any well-known hate groups. But in an era fraught with polarization and controversy, every single person in Donald Trump’s cabinet is subject to the same amount of vitriol.
People who don’t like her, like students at Bethune-Cookman University, really don’t like her. They make their hate obvious. They go beyond what’s considered socially acceptable– up to misbehaving during a commencement speech.
DeVos’s weak understanding of education basics and inexperience in government are problematic. I’m not trying to downplay these legitimate concerns. A department, public administration scholars argue, is only as effective as its managers. And someone lacking experience in government won’t be the most effective manager. So she’s definitely not the first person many of us would have picked for the Secretary of Education. But we’re wasting energy if we spew vitriol on a woman promoting school choice for every child, when this administration has given voices to actual white supremacists.
And yet every single remark she’s made, every visit she’s made to a school, is subject to intense media scrutiny. Her remarks about HBCUs being “pioneers of school choice” (inartfully worded, but hardly as iniquitous as the media treated them) were a tiny gaffe, but every tiny gaffe is a breaking-news story these days. Or so it appears.
I’m still part of the #NeverTrump Republican crowd, but my problems are hardly with DeVos or the president’s proposed education budget. I take issue with appropriating money towards a border wall but no issue with cutting federal education spending. America’s problem is thinking cutting funds to a federal department is equal to abolishing a service altogether.
With less money to spend and fewer human resources, the Department of Education can’t continue to operate the way it always has. Responsibilities may shift to the states or to the private sector. But this new reality doesn’t have to be a bad thing. DeVos can build a pretty strong democratic, normative case for school choice. It arguably allows students of lower socioeconomic statuses to have better opportunities and higher graduation rates. It narrows the education gap by improving the performance of competing public schools. The argument that DeVos is hurting public school kids doesn’t really hold water.
So the question is why liberals oppose school choice and DeVos so vehemently, when she could be effective. Studies have shown vouchers lead to at least some improvements, and with some tweaking, these programs could do wonders for our education system.
The question is why DeVos is the battle anyone would pick, the object of so many puerile protests (the most recent ones at Bethune-Cookman weren’t even the first) and rocky confirmation hearings and negative op-eds, in the era of Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, Ann Coulter, and even President Donald Trump himself. But by all means, continue to complain about school choice when the President just fired the FBI director.
The question is why the left labels DeVos an elitist, when vouchers blur the line between the wealthy, well-educated students and the poor ones.
In our increasingly polarized political system, people’s knee-jerk reaction is painting anyone they don’t like as a fascist dictator. DeVos is by far not the worst part of the Trump administration. On one hand, we’ve got Jeff Sessions and Michael Flynn; and on the other, we’ve got a somewhat clueless– but totally harmless– woman whose only crime is an attempt to downsize an overblown bureaucracy.
But to a staunch left-winger, her idea to downsize the Department of Education makes her Hitler. Some people apparently have to expend all their energy protesting her, when they could and should be more concerned about neo-Nazi Steve Bannon or actual child-president Trump.
DeVos might not be the most effective manager of a bureaucracy, but the intense controversy and juvenile protests surrounding her confirmation and brief stint as secretary are misplaced.