One of America’s defining features, one of the strongest pillars supporting the legitimacy of democracy over other forms of governing, was public education. The idea of government providing a quality education to all citizens, regardless of their wealth, ethnicity, sex, religion, etc., is, in a historical perspective, brand new, a truly brave experiment amidst the vast majority of the world’s countries where education is restricted in one way or another by class, sex, religion or wealth.
The American experiment in education was never perfect. Poorer school districts always lagged behind in results to wealthier ones, racial segregation persisted despite government efforts and educational priorities and funding shifted with changing political ideologies in Washington over the years. Still, we put humans on the moon, won Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, made incredible advances in medical and health care, and ushered in the computer age.
Yet at no time in recent history has public education been so in danger of elimination than it is today with Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.
The groundwork for the DeVos era has been laid by three decades of conservative attacks on public education as a liberal enterprise intent on destroying family values and autonomy. Teachers have been vilified, the arts kicked to the curb as superfluous and even science called into question when it conflicts with prevailing religious beliefs. The result is a national educational system that is underfunded, demoralized and, surprise, surprise, falling behind other countries in many important educational categories. It is the self-fulfilling wish of the American Right.
And now DeVoss steps into the fray, a credentialed conservative who has battled long and hard against public education. DeVoss has been a huge supporter of charter schools, as well as having tax money go to private and religious schools. She seems to approve of any type of educational institution as long as it is not open to the public and supported by public funds. Funny thing is, DeVoss has never attended a public school, never taught or administered in a public school, and did not send any of her children to public school. Who better qualified to serve as Secretary of Education?
Betsy DeVoss will be to public education what John Wayne Gacy, Jr. was to clowns. Her work, like others in the Trump administration, will be to destroy the very institution she will be sworn in to protect and strengthen, and based on her track record, she’ll do it with a smile on her face.