Betsy DeVos Confirmed: Who will advocate for Students?
On the afternoon of February 7th, I tapped open the Facebook app on my phone, hoping to put off my readings for a few more minutes with some dog videos. Instead, I got a New York Times headline that swiftly brought me back down to the reality of the next four years: “Betsy DeVos Confirmed as Education Secretary; Pence Breaks Tie.”
I made the mistake of believing that maybe this position, one of dozens appointed by the president, would be a little more sacred, a little less vulnerable to the unabashed corruption wheeling gleefully through the cabinet of the Trump administration. I thought that Congress had seen what I and millions of others saw (or at least I thought they saw) on social media— clip after clip of DeVos absolutely tanking her hearing, blundering through each representative’s questions with all the unashamed ignorance of Sarah Palin. Maybe as an education major and a lifetime lover of learning, I was too optimistic. Maybe I’m guilty of being in the liberal bubble that so many pundits love to talk about. Then again, the numbers convince me otherwise.
Not one Democrat voted for her, and two Republicans voted against her. Mike Pence had to break the tie vote for her confirmation, an historically unprecedented move. But what really tells me about the direction of this administration was the actions of the American people.
There was a storm of 1.1 million emails, 80,000+ phone calls, hundreds of thousands of letters, and a few pizzas ordered to senators when their voicemails were full. All “voicing concerns”, to put it politely, about DeVos. No other nominee for Trump’s cabinet, not even a goddamn white supremacist, has garnered this level of bipartisan opposition.
To hell with party loyalty. Anyone, regardless of their position on the political spectrum, should have been able to see how disturbingly oblivious this woman is not only to the requirements of her position and to the logistics needed to oversee the U.S. EDUCATION SYSTEM (50.4 MILLION students in public school alone! 5.2 million in private schools!), but also to how the education system works… at all. I’m sure many of you have seen the facts about DeVos circulating the Internet—she’s never been to, worked in, been certified to work in, or sent her children to ANY kind of public school, K-12 or post-secondary—but that’s not where the nightmares end with Betsy.
In her confirmation hearing, she not only refused to commit to the continuation of the longstanding and generally supported policies of the department she’d be leading, but also seemed blissfully unaware that such policies existed. Aside from her viral comment about grizzly bears and guns in school, which would be funny if it didn’t represent exactly the kind of person who will now be leading our whole goddamn education system, her only concrete platform was an unwavering belief that we should hand our children’s educational futures back to “locales” (her term for state governments and school districts). This sentiment not only reflected Devos’s ignorance that, as it stands today, most power over the education system ALREADY LIES with state and local government, but also echoes her ONLY appreciable toe-dip into the waters of education: a vocal advocacy for “school choice,” which here means “using federal funds that would have gone to public schools to pay for some families’ private school tuition or to fund charter schools that don’t have to follow federal laws.”
Now more than ever, our students need an advocate, especially those who already lack a voice in the system—students of low socioeconomic status, students in special education, LGBTQ students, the list goes painfully on. DeVos’s nomination only tells them that regardless of competence (or apparent and deplorable incompetence, in this case), power has a price, and that price can be counted in millions of dollars in campaign contributions. If any appointment could cause a young person to lose faith in their government, it’s this one. Betsy DeVos is not my advocate, and she’s not an advocate for my future students. I just hope she doesn’t do too much damage, but I’ve been overly optimistic before.
Laurel Spiegelthal is a third-year who loves “education”