Oak Plains School (North Carolina; built in late 19th century for white children)
When the “president” appointed Betsy DeVos to the education secretary post on November 23, 2016, and she was confirmed on February 7, 2017, I groaned out loud, along with many of my friends and colleagues who are teachers. DeVos seemed uniquely unqualified to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education in that her principal experience with education is having been a high school and college (undergraduate) student. She has no experience as a teacher, administrator, or educational policy expert. On her own website, DeVos describes herself as “a proven leader, an innovator, a disruptor and an advocate.” She also uses the word “pioneer” in her self-description. This billionaire and former chairperson of the Michigan Republican Party is co-opting revolutionary language to promote herself and to cement traditional platforms that take us back to the 19th century (or probably before, since positivist, pro-science philosophy thrived in the late 19th century). If she is a “proven leader,” then the direction in which she is moving her followers is most definitely backwards. If she is a “disruptor,” then it is due to her utter lack of experience in the educational realm. This Gender Shrapnel Blog post examines damage wrought by DeVos in the areas of public education, education access and affirmative action (also a Justice Department issue, of course), and Title IX protections for women and transgender individuals. This is a shrapnel cluster, hitting religion, race, class, and gender.
The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of The Constitution of the United States (also linked here through the White House site), taken together and interpreted through centuries of jurisprudence, “[build] a wall of separation between Church & State” (Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists). Garrett Epps’s article in The Atlantic (6-15-2011) uses abundant textual evidence that the founding fathers never intended to build a Christian nation. For all that the GOP claims to be the party of “constitutional correctness,” the intentional Christianization of our public school system thumbs its nose at the purpose and practice of the First Amendment. In 2001, DeVos stated, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom” (cited in this Mother Jones article from March/April 2017). DeVos & Company must feel a dizzying sense of power as they promote Christian charter schools (see here what DeVos did to public education in Michigan) and funneling public monies into Christian schools. This 3-20-2017 article from The Atlantic explains the ways in which the Trump-DeVos team might dismantle school integration.
In its Manichean view of the world, does the Trump-DeVos axis realize that the tables could be turned and their own children and grandchildren might have to attend public schools dominated by religions other than Christianity? As a resident of the United States, I believe in the free practice of religion, which means not having religion of any kind imposed in the public school system. In our area, the moment of silence built into the public school day, the prayer gatherings on public school buses and at public school flagpoles, and the invitation to Christian “inspirational” or “motivational” speakers already demonstrate the much more dangerous and more slippery slope of the DeVos regime in education. The ACLU warns the same here.
While Jeff Sessions is at the helm of the Justice Department’s initiative to sue universities over affirmative action (described in this 8-1-2017 piece in The Washington Post), Betsy DeVos is to blame as well. One of the first hires she made in the new post was that of Candice Jackson as acting head of the Department of Education’s (DOE’s) Office for Civil Rights (OCR). This NBS News (4-14-2017) piece probes how well Jackson’s disapproval of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and her anti-affirmative action stance meshes with the mission statement of the OCR. DeVos does not seem as riled up about legacy admissions to colleges and universities, perhaps principally because they still favor white people. (See related pieces in The Washington Post; The New York Times; Business Insider; The Chronicle of Higher Education; and another in The Washington Post.) The DeVos regime, as part of the Trumpocracy, is all about accomplishing the opposite of the office’s mission. Again, this is DeVos, through Jackson, leading us backwards.
While we’re on the subject of the now-infamous Candice Jackson, let’s not forget that she has followed her boss’s lead in advocating for men’s rights over women’s in campus sexual assault cases. The New York Times (7-13-2017) says about Jackson: “Investigative processes have not been ‘fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student,’ Ms. Jackson argued, and students have been branded rapists ‘when the facts just don’t back that up.’ In most investigations, she said, there’s ‘not even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman.’ ‘Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’ Ms. Jackson said.” Jackson does not even use the term “rape” or “sexual assault,” but rather, “students overrode the will of a young woman.” Although Jackson later attempted to clarify the statement, she has made it clear that she does not believe campus sexual assault happens and, by extrapolation, does not believe rapists exist.
In the meantime, Jackson’s boss, DeVos, was meeting with men’s rights activists. As Jon Krakauer and Laura L. Dunn say in this op-ed (8-3-2017) from The New York Times, “The Department of Education is taking a hard look at its policies on campus sexual assault. The result may make colleges safer. For rapists.” (*See Mili Mitra’s 7-18-2017 op-ed in The Washington Post for an eloquent rationale of the need for a strong DOE and OCR to follow up Dear Colleague letters issued under the Obama administration; see Katz’s and Alejandro’s 8-3-2017 op-ed in USA Today; see also this 1-2-2017 Gender Shrapnel Blog post.)
DeVos is also crippling Title IX protections in the realm of transgender rights, as detailed here by the ACLU (3-29-2017), although she is reported to have been initially in favor of maintaining Obama-era protections. Through DeVos, and of his own accord, Trump is using the transgender community to pander to his base in the face of epically low approval ratings.
None of this is about education (DOE; DeVos) or civil rights (OCR; Jackson). It is about fake-revolutionary rhetoric and continuing to assert power to the benefit of few and the detriment of many.