An Open Letter to Betsy DeVos:
It’s been awhile since America has seen such a controversial and disagreeable confirmation fight like the one that was put up for you as Secretary of Education, so well done and congratulations. It was a 50-50 tie for you that had to be broken by VP Mike Pence, so that was exciting.
Why is it then that you are so controversial?
Can we take a minute to talk about why everyone is so hesitant?
First and foremost, I think what gets under most people’s skin is that you have no real experience in education or as an educator. In Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts 16 page letter to you, she said: “There is no precedent for an Education Department Secretary nominee with your lack of experience in public education.” In the letter, she gave you a list of 41 questions that covered K-12 Education all the way to Student Loan Programs. So I think we are all interested to see how you will be addressing all of our concerns, especially the ones that Sen. Warren highlighted.
Second, you have never been involved in a public education institution. Your family has resided in Holland, Michigan all of your life. You attended Holland Christian Schools and then continued to receive a higher education at Calvin College, both of the Christian Reformed background. You and your husband have been fighting for over 20 years to let families have an “educational choice.” (Essentially this means that she wants to privatize education by redirecting public money to funding religious and private schools, which is motivated by the family’s religious beliefs.)
Third, you are a billionaire, meaning that you do not relate on a financial level to 98% of Americans. Your dad was a billionaire, and then you married the son of a multi-billionaire, Dick DeVos Jr., whose father founded the Amway corporation. You are among some of the richest families in the world. Fun fact: my dad actually worked on your summer home in Holland back in 2007-08. So I’ve seen your summer cottage, and that is not what many people live in, let alone have for a cottage. It’s a nice place, though.
These are only three of the biggest factors that play a role in your opposition. Some of the others have been your religious, conservative background. Your activism in education has been primarily school choice, and your reform record is not highly regarded in Michigan. Also, you have been a big donor to the Republican party in exchange for influence. In an essay for Roll Call, you said: “I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.” Interesting.
Why do I care?
As a student, it is important to be knowledgeable about what is happening in the higher ups, and know what it means for me and my future. What happens in the next four years with you as the new Secretary of Education has the potential to affect me, my children, grandchildren, and so on. The people that are the future.
What kind of expectations do we as students have for our education? High ones, hopefully. Despite what a person’s educational background is, it’s necessary that we all understand the importance of education itself, private or public.
Time for a personal input, feel free to disregard if you are uninterested. I personally have attended both public and private institutions, and I can honestly say that neither is better than the other. There are so many benefits to each, and I have appreciated every second (even the 3 am paper writing) of my education. There is so much value in education, that it is important to give it all a chance.
C.S. Lewis writes that “the task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” Educators are here to bring life to learning, in all settings. So should you, the Secretary of Education, be able to cut down part of the jungles? Or should you promote growth in all areas?
Here’s to hoping that you, Betsy DeVos, do what is best for all students and educators, and promotes the value of ALL types of education.