By Devin T Russo, Opinion Writer
Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, had her Senate hearing a few days ago and sought to persuade the Senate to confirm her nomination. DeVos is well-spoken, well-connected in the Republican Party and not a stranger to the political world. The Michigan born and based grandmother looks strikingly like a stereotypical principal of a middle school, but she herself is not truly connected to that lifestyle.
DeVos, formerly Betsy Prince, was born into the massive fortune of the Prince Corporation. Her father, Edgar Prince, was a billionaire industrialist from Michigan. She later married into a greater family fortune, the Amway fortune. DeVos was raised in the bourgeoisie, the elitist upper class against which Karl Marx raved maliciously.
During her hearing, DeVos made clear that she never attended a public school in her lifetime, and instead attended private institutions corresponding with her middle-class background. She highlighted the existence of her teacher mother, but neglected to mention her billionaire father. She received a private Christian education throughout her youth and into her college career. She graduated from Calvin College with degrees in both political science and business administration. At no point during her time at a private institution did she have to feel the financial squeeze experienced by many in order to attend such facilities. DeVos was part of that politically lucrative middle class that each politician strives hard to connect with. She never knew the sacrifice families made in order to give their children the education they wanted them to have. She acknowledges her shock upon discovering that people struggled to place their children in private institutions. This shock only shows her disconnect.
As for her policies, she advocates for enhanced school choice and an increase in the number of voucher programs. Such programs bring children out of public schools and place them in a school chosen by their parents. Voucher programs often only provide the funds per student equal to or less than public school funding to educate said student without including federal funds or local funding. On average this is around $6500 while the cost of the average private school is roughly $10,000, according to Private School Review. These private schools are entitled to deny entry to any student who does not meet their academic or even social criteria. Most often, the families of students that qualify for these programs still have to make sacrifices to attend them, something DeVos never had to do.
Furthermore, when addressing the growing debt burden faced by students, she plainly stated that not everyone needs a college degree and people should place more value on a vocational education. While I agree that people should play to their strengths, suggesting people ought to settle for a certain education because they cannot afford one they are qualified for is not a solution; it is avoiding the problem. Much in the way Marie Antoinette told her starving subjects to “eat cake”, DeVos is disconnected from the struggles of the ambitious student. She never had to worry about paying her tuition like most students do today, and her wealth has blinded her to the struggles facing many qualified yet poor students.
The most troubling and telling of DeVos’ education plans for the country can be seen in Michigan where her ideas have been implemented as a trial run. According to the Department of Education, the state of Michigan has dropped its reading and math skills in grades four through eight while its public schools have continually outpaced the unregulated and DeVos-supported charter schools.
DeVos certainly believes her ideas to be beneficial, but she seeks to dictate our public education when she has never experienced it. She does not seek to fix our public schools, she wants to build private schools so she can ignore them. Make no mistake, she is Marie Antoinette playing peasant. Her children have never attended public schools neither will her grandchildren. Her family will never be subjected to her policy but ours will be. Her record indicates that she will not defend public schools, and as a product of public education I will not defend her.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, January 24th print edition.
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