Yesterday’s confirmation hearings for Department of Education (DOE) nominee Betsy DeVos went exactly as many of us thought they would. From the outset she was vilified and rudely lectured to by Democrat members of the committee. It was no surprise and nothing any of them said was inconsistent with what they have always said about the civil rights issue of school choice.
From the outset I have been an enormous DeVos supporter. As a school-choice advocate and parent of two curious children, the idea of a pro-school-choice leader in the DOE is a dream come true. The only thing that could have been better is if President-Elect Trump had just announced he was doing away with the department altogether.
Some are reading this and gasping at the thought. We have become so conditioned into believing that the federal government provides everything we depend on in American life that we as a society have equated the DOE with the service of education. In truth, they could not be further apart. Americans were educating the masses long before such a thing came into existence as we know it in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter.
DeVos was quizzed about many things during her hearing, but the one statement she made that illustrated that the DOE is truly obsolete came when she was grilled about her stance on guns in schools.Senator Chris Murphy (D- Connecticut) got his turn for CNN soundbites and did not squander it when he asked DeVos if it was her belief that guns do not belong in any school anywhere across the nation. DeVos’ response was that she could not commit to such a sweeping statement as some schools like an aforementioned Wyoming school might need to keep weapons on hand to protect students from wild animals and large game that regularly roam the rural/country landscape. Her point was that it is unreasonable to make a blanket statement that doesn’t consider the very different lives Americans lead from state to state.
The “outrage” media has seized this short exchange today to point to why DeVos is “crazy” and unfit for the post, but I see her comments as a great case for the elimination of the federalized education standards.
DeVos was making a very salient point that was actually a theme throughout her testimony. Not every school is the same; not every student has the same needs; not every school district faces the same challenges. The DOE is predicated on the idea that in order for children to receive equal educational opportunities, everything around them must adhere to one standard. This ignores the fundamental nature of American life – that we all lead enormously different lives and the centralization of any service is the death of creativity and flexibility.
The DOE has no teachers, no students and runs no school within its walls. It provides no direct service to anyone in need. It can’t tell you if students in Wyoming face a greater challenge with bears and rattlesnakes than students in rural Northern California. They can’t tell you if treating Johnny for dyslexia is a different experience in the middle of Detroit than it is in small-town Iowa. They can’t tell you what the heart of your town feels like, how your community cares for and educates its own, or how any student is affected by their external physical influences based on geography.
They are nameless, faceless bureaucrats who exist only to fill a position. DeVos’ remarks were not about guns or gun control. They were really about the bigotry of forced uniformity. People in Wyoming have different needs than people in Washington D.C., as do their children. It is beyond common sense to force people in each region of the country to live in the exact same manner. To flip the script – would Senator Murphy prefer that every classroom in a D.C. school be required to house a rifle, the way that rural school in Wyoming might?
Education was originally put within the purview of each state because the best way to craft a just and thorough approach is to let the local community decide how that education is best served. The direct-service providers are the ones most likely to have a positive understanding of the unique needs of their students and schools. Farming that job out to lifelong Capitol Hill employees who don’t interact with teachers or students in any way robs our children of a tailored, personal education.
They become numbers instead of people. That is where we are in education these days and that is because we have sadly capitulated to the idea that the only people fit to “control” education are people in a far-off capitol who would sooner spit on most people from flyover states than set one foot on their soil.
I’m under no illusions that DeVos or Trump or anyone else will ever take down the DOE. It is too entrenched in our tax dollars and our national psyche. The best they could do would be to shrink the budget a bit and develop policies that take the handcuffs off local municipalities when it comes to education.
As we’ve seen with the racial and social upheavals of the last few years, America is not a monolithic society and cannot prosper as such. The DOE runs counterintuitive to that very basic truth of American life.
It is a money-suck and nothing more.