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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

There’s a reason that Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as the new secretary of education was such a close vote, requiring Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie. Even in the Trump administration, with its clear suspicion of expertise and competence, DeVos stands out as spectacularly ill-suited for her new post.

There was such a public outcry against her that two Republican senators, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins, voted against her confirmation. In this hyperpartisan age, that’s extraordinary.

But, then, so is DeVos. And I don’t mean that as a compliment. She is a doctrinaire right-winger who means to destroy public education, replacing it with a system of religious schools that serve the middle class and the wealthy. Implacably hostile to the public commons, she would rip apart a core asset of our democracy.

In the early 19th century, the visionary Horace Mann set about modernizing American education, advocating a system of publicly funded schools that served all children and answered to no sectarian or religious interests. He believed that universal education would equip disciplined citizens who would advance democratic interests. DeVos’ beliefs run counter to Mann’s principles.

Her defenders insist that all DeVos wants is to ensure an excellent education for every child and to rescue those who are stuck in failing schools. They point to her advocacy for “school choice” as proof that she would give poor parents an opportunity to send their children to high-performing schools outside their neighborhoods.

Indeed, improving educational opportunity for poor children is an important goal, one of the core civil rights issues of our era. While I disagree with those who claim that public schools are worse than they’ve ever been — actually, many of them are much better — I agree that they haven’t improved enough to equip children for the 21st century. Public schools across the board need more innovation, higher standards, and more accountability for principals and teachers.

But “school choice” is a deceptive term. It encompasses support for charters, public schools that, at their best, break away from the hidebound techniques of traditional public schools to boost the achievement of even students from modest backgrounds. But DeVos’ advocacy for for-profit charter schools in Michigan (most of the nation’s charter schools are nonprofit) hasn’t helped students. It has only enriched charter school operators.

The term “school choice” also encompasses vouchers, which subvert tax dollars to support private schools. In those states where vouchers have gained a toehold, the programs usually work by providing parents with a grant, funded by taxpayer dollars, to send their children to any school they choose.

As it turns out, though, most of them don’t serve the poorest households because the grants aren’t large enough. Vouchers average from $2,000 to $5,000. Parochial school tuition averages around $7,000 a year, while nonreligious private schools tend to be much higher. Where would the poorest kids get the rest of the money?

Even if vouchers were more generous, though, they betray a fundamental principle of our pluralistic democracy: They send public dollars to fund narrow belief systems. My second-grader attends an Episcopal school where she is required to attend chapel every Friday. Why should taxpayers who disagree with the beliefs of the Episcopal church subsidize my child’s education?

And why should my tax dollars support Catholic schools? As much as I respect the current pope, Francis, I still oppose much Catholic doctrine, including the church’s condemnation of homosexuality, its refusal to elevate women to the clergy, and its opposition not only to abortion but also to contraception. Why should my money support those beliefs?

DeVos, a billionaire, isn’t Catholic. She’s a member of an ultraconservative Calvinist sect that believes in “predestination” — God has already decided who is going to heaven before we are born — and worships private enterprise. Speaking to The Gathering, an annual meeting of super-wealthy conservative Christians in 2001, DeVos compared “the system of education in the country” to a biblical battlefield where Israelites fought the Philistines, according to Politico.

In other words, she means to push vouchers, which would starve public schools of desperately needed funds, to advance her right-wing religious views. Nothing is more dangerous to liberal democratic values than that.

Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.

IMAGE: Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

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33 responses to “DeVos Sees Public Education As A Biblical Battlefield”

  1. Godzilla says:

    Ignoring the failed public education system will not make it better. Our inner city kids are failing and Democrats seem to think that having one generation of ignorant blacks is OK, they double and triple down trying to protect failure. What most Democrats may one day figure out, these school kids who fail deserve better, and it’s the same failed Liberal policies that will keep things as they are. While Democrats keep producing generations of ignorant kids, the rest of us are trying to end the insanity, because the Democrats just want to keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. That’s insane. That’s why your no longer running the Federal government. You have failed the children for far too long.

    • iamproteus says:

      You are right about one thing, godzilla; our kids do deserve better…..better than the stupidity espoused by you and the totally ignorant DeVos. Perhaps you would be so kind as to enumerate the “failed Liberal policies” of which you speak and show how Devos’ proposed policies would be superior.

    • dtgraham says:

      Where are low income parents going to get the money for these vouchers? Private vouchers and charter schools are not the norm in the highest performing countries of the SPI basic education rankings. Finland (routinely ranked number one) has no charter schools at all and Canada has only one province funding charter schools, and they’re heavily regulated. Like I said before, that might tell you something.

      Did you even read the long spiel I left you on the disastrous Swedish experiment with private vouchers?

      Developing countries populate the lower half of the SPI index because they often don’t have the money to fund their public education systems properly. That’s a big part of the issue.

    • FireBaron says:

      What failed public education system? If you are claiming it is failed as a result of your own ignorance, then maybe you should wonder would you not have been a failure had you actually paid attention to your teacher instead of reading Archie comics. Or are you looking for the Teflon Donnie equivalent of “Obamaphones” so your kids can go to a school that you could probably easily afford but want someone like Dominick, Graham, Aaron and me to pay for?

  2. Buford2k11 says:

    republicans have already starved the Public Education System of funds for years, and now they are claiming it has failed? this is what republicans DO…defund all public institutions, to make them fail, then sell them off to private corporations…that is the gop agenda…

    • dbtheonly says:

      There’s also the religious and ideological aspects of the issue.

      And who can forget that “school choice” started off as a way for white parents to choose to send their kids to schools without blacks.

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      • FireBaron says:

        What makes you think this is any different? My daughter attends a public high school, actually one of the better funded and run ones in the state, where she has access to AP courses, College Credit Courses, robotics, architecture, modern media techniques, and a whole STEM concentration. Her teachers are all accessible via email to her and us.
        I point this out in contrast to my pastor. When he transferred to our location in Southern New England from his former parish in Northern Vermont, he and his wife decided to send their son to a private Christian academy. All the stuff I pointed out above is unavailable where he went. As for college, he, like his older brother before him, is going to a theological program to prepare for the ministry. This means he really will not be able to understand the inner workings of Society, outside of the narrow focus of his Christian upbringing, but will have no problem telling others how they should live their lives.
        That is what scares me about DeVos and those like her. And even worse, she is NOT doing this for altruistic reasons, but in order to continue worshiping at the altar of Mammon!

        • dbtheonly says:

          Not quite sure of your point.

          Private school choice has several components. Anti-government, racial, religious, ideological. Trying to separate the threads in that skein is difficult and perhaps not necessary.

          What is harder for me to understand is that parents will cripple their children with an inferior education. Though the counter argument is that the Public Schools are failing and private schools are the path to success. My response then is that we, as a community, need to make sure our Public Schools are a success.

          Would suggest that you join us in ignoring ‘Zilla. Some games can only be won by not playing.

          • FireBaron says:

            OH, frankly I love tweaking ‘Zilla every opportunity I get. However, when discussing the quality of education in public schools there really are different levels of opportunity. Most urban schools are crippled by low tax bases, denser populations and older infrastructures. School buildings are expensive as Hell, and renovating older structures is not always an option. Then you have the added problem of attracting quality teachers, and lack of parental involvement due to work commitments. Similar problems exist with immediate Exurbs. Many of those have the same problems as the core cities they surround.
            Then you have the “Gold Standard” – the well funded Suburban Schools. These are the ones with the computer labs, the up-to-date video interface, the personal computers for each student (well, yeah, they may be Google Chromebooks but it’s a hell of a lot better than when I was in HS in the late 60s early 70s), sports teams with NEW uniforms, etc. They have no problem attracting quality teachers and administrators and the parents are generally engaged with what the kids are doing. These are the communities that recoil in terror whenever the nasty phrase “Regionalism” is uttered! How dare these “core cities” where the residents of these suburbs go to work every day but refuse to spend a dime in unless absolutely necessary ask to share the wealth!
            Finally you have relatively underfunded Rural Schools. In our state, (one of the smaller New England states) many of these smaller communities that cannot support their own school systems, so they merge as Regional Schools. This way they can afford many of the programs the suburban schools have. However, in some larger states with more scattered communities, the rural schools often suffer from similar problems to Urban Schools with the added problem of distance. Unfortunately in these rural areas, the Public School is generally the only game in town. At least in Urban, Exurb, and Suburb schools usually have “choices” of private or parochial schools.

          • dbtheonly says:

            Teacher pay has been a problem pretty much forever.

            Rural schools have the problem of distance as well as spotty attendance during harvest time.

            Only a fool would argue that the inner cities do not have problems that directly impact the schools. I don’t have answers, though I suspect you can not solve the school problems without addressing the societal.

            I can tell you that skimming off the best and the brightest those school districts have to offer is not the answer. That said I’ll never condemn anyone for getting his children the best opportunity possible.

      • Dominick Vila says:

        I agree. I consider this a huge threat to our ability to compete on the world stage…and keep good paying jobs in America. A large percentage of professionals working in the high tech industry, as well as medical doctors, physicists, chemists, and other professionals working in the USA with H1b visas are foreigners. The last thing we need is replace science with religion. Miracles are not going to solve our problems. What we need is greater emphasis on science, and finding a way to motivate our children to pursue careers in the scientific and technical fields, rather than pave the way to turn American academia into a huge mega-church.

        • dbtheonly says:

          Kinda agree Dom,

          But remember those H1b are the best the world has to offer.

          I will State that the ways to make our Public Schools a success is not by pulling the best and most motivated students and families out of the system.

          • Dominick Vila says:

            I could not agree with you more. I am alive thanks to the skills and alertness of two female Indian doctors who diagnosed my kidney and colon cancers in their early stages. Pulling our best and most motivated students out of the public school system is, obviously, not the answer. In most cases, the problem with the public school system has more to do with the negative attitude of so many students, and lack of parental guidance, than an outdated academic system or unqualified teachers. All we have to do is look at the large number of foreign students that attend colleges and universities in the USA to understand that our teachers or professors are not the problem. I live close to Embry Riddle University, a prestigious aeronautical university renowned worldwide. We see dozens of foreign ERAU students every time we go to Daytona. The same was true when we lived in Maryland and went to restaurants and stores near Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, and other universities in the area. On an ancillary note, I suspect most of those universities are very concerned with the proposed (temporarily blocked) travel ban, the anti-Muslim sentiments that are being expressed, and the anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner sentiments that can be heard in the USA almost daily. Foreign students, especially those from wealthy Muslim countries, are a major source of income for our institutions of learning.

          • dbtheonly says:

            I’ll point out that Trump’s Muslim Ban didn’t effect the wealthier Muslim Countries; those prone to producing terrorists. Just another absurdity that the 9th Circuit, no doubt, considered.

            I will admit that I’ve got no easy answer for the problems of our Public Schools. And, frankly, I can’t condemn anyone who wishes to keep his kids out of the Public School Systems of most major cities. But the answer isn’t to create a permanent underclass of ill educated children, who will then grow up to be unqualified for most jobs. And then be unable to afford a quality education for their own children.

            We’re competing against the entire world now. Glad as I am for your Indian Doctors, Those might have been Americans. Is that putting “America First”? Is “Americans First” any better? But yes, I want Americans to be qualified for all the top-notch jobs our economy produces.

          • Dominick Vila says:

            There are no easy answers or solutions to the challenges our public schools face. In part, because part of the solution involves greater parental involvement, over which our government has little influence or control. As you pointed out, providing new options to the cream of the crop, while marginalizing or ignoring the bulk of our students is not an option. Such approach would result in the creation of an under class, incapable to overcoming the challenges of the 21st century, and would increase our reliance on foreign professionals to meet skill level demands in the USA, and mitigate the probability of U.S. companies moving abroad.

    • dtgraham says:

      Exactly. You have to burn the village down to save it. Purposely run government badly and then point to how bad government is. Check out the Swedish experiment with private vouchers for primary education. It was a disaster. I pointed that out to the lizard on another thread, but nothing seems to have gotten through.

      • FireBaron says:

        That’s because you, like me, have repeatedly run against the scaly wall of ‘zilla’s self-imposed ignorance and refusal to acknowledge any point other than his own, getting all upset in the process. This makes him our own Special Snowflake, as I take pleasure in repeatedly reminding him.

  3. This is just my personal opinion based on observation and reading Baha’u’llah’s sweeping assessment of the importance of Religion, its Progressive nature following a continuous paradigm, and His outlining how each Religious community began to atrophy and become the antithesis of the Essence and Spirit defining each Religion at its inception.

    From Abraham up to Muhammad, and then to the current Era, Baha’u’llah chose several examples of Messengers to illustrate to an inquiring uncle of The Bab the pattern of a Religion’s birth, it’s efflorescence, the complacency that set in, the Religious community’s decay, and the effects on the followers thereafter.
    Since Baha’u’llah was addressing the questions of a Muslim who had doubts about the authenticity of the Message and the new Religion that appeared in Persia called The Babi Faith by his nephew Siyyid Ali Muhammad(whose title was ‘The Bab'[The Gate in Arabic/Persian]), Baha’u’llah cited the Judaeo-Christian Prophets (Noah, Moses, Abraham, Jesus), the ancient Persian Messenger, Zoroaster, and several of the Prophets who appeared to the ancient folks of the Arabian Peninsula, such as Hud, Salih, & Muhammad, and explained how each of Them were met with doubts, questions, hostilities, and often had to suffer Martyrdom.

    In every case, there arose contention and corruption—Baha’u’llah cites the phrase used in the Qur’an “corruption of the Text”. “Corruption” as defined and clarified by
    Baha’u’llah, means misinterpreting the intent and the inner meanings of the Bible, the Qur’an, and other Books—NOT the rewriting of the Books, as Muslims incorrectly presume was done by Christians to the Bible so that they wouldn’t be able to accept Islam. FAR FROM IT! The Bible and Qur’an weren’t literally tampered with—just the meanings were twisted to serve the need of clerics who became co-opted by greed and the urge to hold on to their power whenever a new Messenger appeared.

    Betsy Devos, various Christian clerics, and many ordinary citizens are unwittingly victimized by “the corruption of the Text” process, and this is a major reason why the likes of Betsy Devos, Ben Carson, are now prone to utter gibberish and rot concerning the Bible; or why Abdu’l Wahhab, a 16th Century Muslim Cleric went off the deep end by twisting the meaning of the Qur’an to suit his personal interpretation and tastes—and thus, we have jihadists, Houtis, and Iranian clerics wreaking havoc and totally “disfiguring” Islam.

    Betsy in a way is shaping up to be a jihadist of a different flavor—but the results will be devastating even though there won’t be suicide bombers and beheadings. Instead, children’s minds will be poisoned, like many conservative and fundamentalist adult Christians, with wild, fanciful, and lurid views like those of Betsy and Ben Carson. The wild and illogical interpretations of both the Old and the New Testament are the reason for the decay of Christianity and what motivated certain individuals of the Human tribes that settled in Europe were led to formalize Racialist philosophies by the likes of such as Locke, Hume, Galton, and Malthus.

    Fortunately for humanity, Baha’u’llah, in response to this trend of corruption due to a lack of an authorized Interpreter and “written” instructions who to turn to after the ascension of each Messenger in the Past Ages, clearly set down in writing who the Baha’is should turn to after His ascension; plus, His copious Texts explain much that Jesus and the Others weren’t allowed to disclose to humanity—refer to Jesus’s admonition to His disciples when He said, “…12) I still have much to tell you, but you cannot yet bear to hear it. 13) However, when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and He will declare to you what is to come…” (John 16:12).

    As you know by now, there are “No Clergy” in The Baha’i Faith, per requirement of Baha’u’llah; the work of the Clergy in the past–a necessary and vital service they provided—is now done by a group of 9 adults who administer to the needs of the local communities across the world in the SAME manner; a similar grouping of 9 adults oversee the affairs of nations(some Arab countries forbid the Baha’is to have such bodies); and then there is a body of 9 in Haifa, Israel overseeing and guiding the Baha’is world-wide. At each level the members are voted into these “unpaid” positions by democratic process with NO CAMPAIGNING allowed–not even a hint of who one wants to vote for. There is NO media, no hucksterism, no secret funding, and other decadent antics, and no one is allowed to put herself or himself forward for consideration by word or by any hinting. God, in His mysterious way, therefore protects the Baha’i communities from ever being afflicted with the likes of the person(s) we’re currently being tortured to endure.

    The above are just a way of an ordinary Baha’i trying feebly to shed some light.

    • dbtheonly says:

      You know, Aaron, I never thought of John Locke or David Hume as racialist. Thomas Malthus may be racist, not that I ever saw it, but is depressing for monkey-boys of all groups.

      Be happy to learn why you think so.

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  5. dtgraham says:

    Once Devos gets finished with the public education system, I imagine it will be hard for the publishers to choose a title for the book that will be coming out on it. There are so many options:

    “We Don’t Need No Education, We Don’t Need No Thought Control.”

    “School’s Out For Summer, School’s out Forever, School’s Out Completely.”

    “No More Pencils, No More Books, No More Teachers’ Dirty Looks.”

    — The Betsy Devos Public Education Primer For Dummies.

    With apologies to Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, and anybody else.

  6. pics fixer says:

    Your story is wasted here. It should be in the mass media where the everyday person can read it and, hopefully get fired up to act and get involved. She is a dangerous person to our democracy and more people should know that and fire those elected leaders who allowed her to happen.

  7. Gwen says:

    Pubic education has served our country well over the past century as it has improved. Unfortunately, under a GOP controlled Congresses wanting to privatize public education, they have continually underfunded education. As a result, the quality of education has gone down in large part because quality teachers are not paid as well or have the benefits they did have before. The GOP plan is visible with the placement in the Trump Cabinet of Betsy DeVoss. Their purpose is to privatize public education, turning schools into quasi-Christian teaching schools that would eliminate all but the wealthy, white students using government funding. All other children, those of color, other religions, other beliefs and disabled and poorer would be relegated to the under-funded public school system.

  8. TheGorf says:

    I’m sure the lady means well, but I’m not so sure she understands what that is. It might have been easier for me to accept her if she had been able to point to at least a small bit of related experience — an occasional turn at substitute teaching, a day or to as, say, a hall monitor, a part-time janitor, etc. etc.

    While I’m at it: Our advanced college graduate programs are populated by foreign students, in part because fewer of our students can compete for those slots. That does not speak well for our preparatory programs. The foreign students are then allowed to work under the provisions of “practical experience” for a time. When that time is up, their employers are allowed to petition for them to remain as nonimmigrants who then become citizens. Now THERE’S something I’d like to see changed. Here’s a simple change: you come here for a degree? You go home when you’ve completed it. Period. Would-be employers would NOT be allowed to hire them. There would be a rash of business complaints, I’m sure, but maybe those businesses could be helped in providing additional training for our own American citizen students who would then be given those jobs.

    • RED says:

      Why? Are you under some weird belief that the U.S. is somehow pure from foreign influence in our history and culture? Or do cling to some strange belief that the world will never change and that we will always be as we are today? Or is it that weird American exceptionalism thing that somehow a country that is currently bombing seven different countries is a superior culture? When did your family get here? Of course, no need to answer, the answer is always the same, “I came here legally and my family has been here long enough for me to count but not those others. Personally I can trace my ancestors back to Wales before the American Revolution and actually arrived here by force being kidnapped and sold in to indentured slavery. And yet I can still clearly understand that immigrants today are no different than immigrants of yesterday. Can you?

  9. Thomas Martin says:

    Devos is clueless when it comes to public education. The GOP, in general, wants to reduce funding for education. Period.

    • Mama Bear says:

      let’s face it – the GOP wants to educate only the wealthy white males. You know, like it used to be way……way back.

  10. Wrily says:

    I’d like to see a huge number of parents asking for vouchers to send their children to madrasas. How long would it be before De Vos cried foul?

  11. Mama Bear says:

    She is a Dominionist. If you are not, you should be very afraid of all of them.

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