The Mis-Education of Betsy DeVos by Peter Greene, Curmudgucation

By Peter Greene | Originally Published on Curmudgucation | 2017 |On Twitter: @palan57 | Author of Curmudgucation: What Fresh Hell | Syndication made possible through Patreon

By Peter Greene

Tim Alberta has published a firm-but-gentle profile of Betsy DeVos. It is perhaps not as brutal as some of her opponents would like it to be, but I’ve argued since Day One that some folks are opposing a cartoon version of DeVos which is not the real thing– and it’s dangerous not to understand the real thing.

But on to Alberta’s profile.

I’m not going to go line by line or graph by graph– you really should read the whole thing yourself. But there are some things that really jump out. Here are some of the DeVosian faces that Alberta shows us.

The Bad Manager DeVos

Who could have guessed, the article seems to ask, that DeVos would be so ill-equipped to run a large government department.

Well, me. I would have guessed that. And a few hundred of my colleagues. DeVos never ran a large government organization, never had to deal with people or politicians who were not being “convinced” by the power of her checkbook. It was absolutely predictable (and in fact predicted) that she would not be able to manage the bureaucratic organization of her department or forge support for her programs in Congress.

The Under-coached DeVos

In retrospect, DeVos tells me, she blames the transition team for its handling of her confirmation. “I think I was undercoached,” she says. “The transition group was very circumspect about how much information they gave me about then-current policy and … it was in their view a balance between being prepared for a confirmation hearing and not having well-formed opinions on what should or shouldn’t change, so as not to get caught in a confirmation hearing making commitments that then I wouldn’t want to or be able to keep. And in hindsight, I wish I had a whole lot more information.” 

Sure, maybe. And I’ve never been nominated for a cabinet position. But if I were up for some huge job, I’m pretty sure I would crack open the internet and educate myself. Is she really suggesting that because Trump’s team didn’t prep her, she was helpless to study up for the job? In a field where she’d been working as a philanthro-lobbyist for three decades? Hell, to get a sense of what would come up in her hearings, all she would need to do was have a secretary round up all the pieces written by people who had been opposing her all this time. 

No. While I can believe that the Trump team fumbled this, I can’t believe that a grown-ass woman facing a huge job interview– hell, a huge job– wouldn’t take the initiative to educate herself. Only spectacular ignorance (“How hard could it be?”) or arrogance (“I already know everything I need to know”) or deference (“I’ll just do what the man in charge tells me to”) or laziness (“I’ll get ready for the hearings after I stream all the seasons of Friends”) would explain it.

And she laments that she couldn’t go do interviews on friendly morning shows– but what would a woman, who by her own account was grievously underprepared– what would that woman have to say?

The Mystified DeVos

DeVos is clearly bothered by the perception that she’s out to abolish public education in America, mentioning multiple times that it’s the biggest misconception about her. “I mean, nothing could be further from the truth,” she says. “Public schools are great. “

She can’t be serious. Does she not remember when she declared that public schools are a “dead end.” Does she really not see how easy it might be to interpret her actions in Michigan as a full frontal assault on public education? Unless she acknowledges those things, it’s impossible to take her new-found love and respect for (at least a few) public schools seriously. It is one thing when your abusive spouse says, “I’m sorry for all the times I hit you and I’ll never do it again.” It’s another thing entirely when they say, “But I would never hit you. I never did. You can totally trust me.”

DeVos has spent thirty-some years making her antipathy form the public school system exceedingly clear. She has been hanging out with folks like Jeb Bush who have been clear about their desire to replace public schools with charters. She cannot be surprised that more than a few people noticed.

The Kingdom Gains DeVos

I have a test for Betsy DeVos profiles– if there is no mention of Jesus or the Church or Christian faith in it, I know it’s incomplete. Check just this partial list of articles— I don’t believe it’s possible to really understand what DeVos has in mind without considering her faith . Alberta fails to include this aspect.

The Impatient DeVos

Alberta nicely dovetails the story of DeVos’s mugging with the story of advocates trying to bar her from a school with the observation that patience is a thing she does not have. It’s an aspect that isn’t always highlighted, but always seems part of the picture– DeVos expects to get her way, and being thwarted makes her angry and even less inclined to find middle ground than she already is. 

This is a woman who’s not troubled by doubt. Note that none of her poor performance at her hearing was her fault. And that performance included the revelation that she could not think of a single lesson that  she had learned from her work in Michigan or the trajectory of Detroit schools. Even my students know that at a job interview, you confess to some mistake or shortcoming– I don’t think DeVos ever has. It’s a trait she shares with her boss– she’s certain she’s right, and she has little patience for people who won’t bend to her rightness. 

The Disempowered DeVos

Alberta drives home the point that the USED secretary wields little power and controls a tiny part of school funding, so, really, between that and her inability to manage her department or forge alliances in Congress, there really isn’t much she can get done. Fair enough. I hope he’s right.

Bonus: Thanks a lot, Jeb

Alberta confirms that it’s Jeb Bush who picked up the phone and started this ugly boulder rolling down the hill. It’s worth remembering that there are many ways we could have ended up with this woman as USED secretary, and a Trump Presidency is only one of them.

The whole thing leaves her looking at least a little sympathetic, but there are real things to be learned, and it would be better if supporters of public education could focus on who she really is and not the crazy cartoon version. Let’s save the outrage for something a little more important than her bad Halloween costume ideas, because the many faces of DeVos may not include super-powers, but they are still a threat to public education in this country, and it wouold be a mistake to dismiss her as just an incompetent, unqualified rube. She may not know much about education, and she may not have any idea what she doesn’t know, but she’s in a position to do some real harm, so the rst of us had better pay attention to all of the faces that are really her.

Related: Garn Press Education Books

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