Betsy DeVos: Educational Corporatization by Any Means Necessary

With regard to Trump and his educational agenda, there is no clearer symbol of where he wants to go with education than his Secretary of Education pick, Betsy DeVos. Some of you out there have probably received emails from various groups asking you to contact your senators and to tell them to oppose DeVos’s appointment.

But many of you don’t know just how bad a pick she is, or its impact on adjunct/contingent faculty, particularly those who work at public institutions.

First, unlike the students we see in the public system, DeVos was born into tremendous wealth, her father Edgar Prince having been an industrialist who founded the Prince Corporation, an auto parts supplier.  She later married Richard Marvin “Dick” DeVos Jr., heir to the Amway fortune. She herself is the product of private Christian Schools, and has never been a student at a public institution.  Further, she has no direct experience in public education, either as a teacher, administrator, or even a school board trustee. Ironically, in spite of her elite, privileged, and ideologically narrow upbringing , she asserts of her educational activism that she has been “a fighter for the grassroots.”

Her real claim to fame within the Republican Party is that she has been a tireless party advocate, and more importantly, a heavy fundraiser.

As a self-styled educational reformer, DeVos is a champion of school choice, and favors the use of public funds in the form of school vouchers to allow children to attend public school.  Her real motivation for this position is likely driven by her Christian faith.

As for her “success” in achieving educational reform, her record is less that exemplary.  Detroit’s charter school system, for which she was in large part responsible, was, in the words of Douglas Harris, a Brookings Institution Fellow and Founding Director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, even acknowledged by educational reformers as “the biggest school reform disaster in the country.” As for her specific actions regarding the Detroit Charter School system, Harris further wrote:

She devised Detroit’s system to run like the Wild West. It’s hardly a surprise that the system, which has almost no oversight, has failed. Schools there can do poorly and still continue to enroll students. Also, after more than a decade of Ms. DeVos’s getting her way on a host of statewide education policies, Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of five states with declining reading scores.

Perhaps more troubling, especially for those of us in Higher Ed, and particularly adjunct/contingent faculty, is her notion of the US Public Education System as a “dead end,” and, in a thinly-veiled argument for both school choice and the view of  public schooling as “an industry,” stated:

As long as education remains a closed system, we will never see the education equivalents of … Facebook, Amazon . . . Wikipedia, or Uber.

Perhaps then, DeVos feels the US education system should aspire to allowing fake information like Facebook, working its employees to death like Amazon, creating reference material from open and questionable sources like Wikipedia, or reducing the entire educational workforce to independent contractors (that’s right, just like adjunct/contingent faculty) like Uber.

Finally. For those of you who care about academic freedom, consider this, Besty DeVos, in describing her motivation for school reform stated:

Our desire is to be in that Shephelah, and to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory.

I suppose some could find comfort in the words “outside our own faith territory” except when thinking of what she has said further in this regard:

It goes back to what I mentioned, the concept of really being active in the Shephelah of our culture — to impact our culture in ways that are not the traditional funding the-  Christian-organization route, but that really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run by changing the way we approach things — in this case, the system of education in the country

Shephelah, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a plot of land the Israelites fought over with the Philistines, and the desire to have the land was that he/she who controlled it, would in turn control the people.  Another way to think of such thinking is to know it as “Dominionism” which can loosely be defined as the belief that one needs to create a nation governed by Christians based on their interpretation of Biblical Law.

For those Philistines among us, DeVos’s quest for Shephelah should be a cause of grave concern.

As confirmation hearings are soon upon us, it is urgent that you act to oppose the DeVos nomination, that is, if you value Public Education, Worker Rights, and Academic Freedom;  DeVos is clearly a threat to all of the above.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct

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