Shall We Stop Educating Our Children?

Betsy DeVos served under the former administration as Secretary of Education.  Ms. DeVos brought no qualifications in the field of education to the position – her only qualification was the huge sum of money (reported to be in the multi-million dollar range) she and her husband, Dick, had donated to the former guy’s campaign in 2016.  Ms. DeVos was no more qualified than I for the position, and did an even worse job than I would have, but that is all water under the bridge, for she and her corrupt boss have left the federal government … or have they?

It seems these days that anybody and everybody who served in the former administration feels qualified to write a book, and they believe that we will pay money to read their first-hand experience, or drivel, which is what most of these books are.  There are a few exceptions, such as Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy by Jamie Raskin, which I am currently reading.  However others, like One Damn Thing After Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General by former Attorney General William (Bill) Barr are merely ego trips for the authors.  The latest in the batch, slated for release on June 21st, is Hostages No More: The Fight for Education Freedom and the Future of the American Child by none other than Betsy DeVos.

Apparently Ms. DeVos defines ‘education freedom’ differently than I do, and hopes for an entirely different future for today’s children than I would wish for.  During a tour this week to promote her upcoming book, Ms. Devos made this statement:

“I don’t think the Department of Education should exist.”

My jaw dropped … she was, after all, paid $199,700 per year from our hard-earned tax dollars to lead the very department she now claims should not exist.  I read two articles about her ideas, why she believes the Department of Education should be shut down, and in my view she didn’t make one bit of sense.  She drones on about how ‘children are political pawns’ and “how poorly the system is serving children,” but offers no facts upon which she bases her opinions.  She apparently does not believe that every young person should have the opportunity to go to college, for she said …

“There are millions of great jobs going unfilled that don’t require a college degree.”

And regarding President Biden’s proposed student loan forgiveness program, she believes …

“It’s a horrible idea, and I don’t know how anyone can defend it. All you’re doing is buying a bunch of political goodwill.”

Way back in 2017, when DeVos was first made Secretary of Education, I posited that the goal she and Trump had was to ensure that only the children of the wealthy would ultimately be able to afford or qualify for a college education, that the other 99% of us would remain the proletariat, doing the heavy lifting for subsistence wages while those wealthy kids went into politics and managed their family’s multi-million dollar corporations.  Seems I was right.

Now, I consider her to be irrelevant and wouldn’t waste my time writing about her, except that … her ideas are becoming the ideas of the entire Republican Party that wants to diminish the education our kids are getting by failing to teach them facts, teach them history, teach them what they need to get into college and learn to think for themselves.  What if … perish the thought … the former guy somehow avoids the long arm of the law and is allowed to run for president again in 2024, and what if he were to win?  Would he follow DeVos’ advice and demolish the Department of Education?  And what would it be replaced with?  The Department of Christian Learning?  Will forced school prayer return to our schools, replacing such things as Biology, Literature, and History, all of which are seemingly being given the axe in many states today.

From banning books to refusing to teach about such things as slavery – the true cause of the Civil War – and the Tulsa Race Massacre, and the Civil Rights Era, and how white people treated the original owners of this land, we are turning education upside down and not in any good way.  I hope, I truly hope, that Ms. DeVos is never again in charge of anything in our government, but there are other equally noxious people in the Republican Party like Ron DeSantis who support the dumbing-down of our children.  What will this nation look like in 50 years if they succeed?

Congress Just Voted To Make America Stupid!

Under Article I, Section 5, clause 2, of the Constitution, a Member of Congress may be removed from office before the normal expiration of his or her constitutional term by an “expulsion” from the Senate (if a Senator) or from the House of Representatives (if a Representative) upon a formal vote on a resolution agreed to by two-thirds of the Members of that body present and voting.

The United States Constitution does not provide for nor authorize the recall of United States officers such as Senators, Representatives, or the President or Vice President, and thus no Member of Congress has ever been recalled in the history of the United States. The recall of Members was considered during the time of the drafting of the federal Constitution in 1787, but no such provisions were included in the final version sent to the states for ratification,

Around noon today, a banner flashed across my screen letting me know that Betsy DeVos had been confirmed as Secretary of Education.  While I knew this was the likely outcome, I am nonetheless angry and disappointed.  First, though, let me commend the two Republican senators who actually voted their conscience:  Senator Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Senator Susan Collins, of Maine. Hats off to them both. doffing-hat

Ms. DeVos is, as I outlined in a previous post,  the worst possible candidate for the position.  I will not reiterate my arguments, but will simply say that our not-so-illustrious Republicans in the Senate have just succeeded in ensuring that twenty years, forty years, sixty years from now, our population will be even less intelligent than it is today.  Once those of us who actually received an education that taught us to think for ourselves die off, there will be nothing left but self-focused, self-serving, narrow-minded people left in the U.S.  (Okay, perhaps that is a bit extreme, and the reader can use his/her better judgement to put it in perspective … I get to rant every now and then)

As you read above, there is no Constitutional means for the people who elected the senators responsible for the killing of American Education to remove them from office, and even if there were, I imagine that, like everything else, it would be a long, drawn-out process.  However it is, after just over a month, quite obvious that what we have in Congress is a collection of greedy, self-centered Republicans.  The slogan “Clean the Swamp” has taken on an entire new meaning, and these men and women are swamp rats the likes of which we have not seen before. What I suggest, then, is that we begin planning for future elections today!  The following eight Republican senators who voted to confirm DeVos will be seeking re-election in November 2018:

Arizona Jeff Flake Republican 2018
Mississippi Roger Wicker Republican 2018
Nebraska Deb Fischer Republican 2018
Nevada Dean Heller Republican 2018
Tennessee Bob Corker Republican 2018
Texas Ted Cruz Republican 2018
Utah Orrin Hatch Republican 2018
Wyoming John Barrasso Republican 2018

If only one of these individuals had considered the future of education in this nation, I would be writing an entirely different post today.  If just one of these men and women had voted their conscience rather than their wallets, we would have the opportunity to improve our education system.  But not a one of them had the courage of their convictions.  Not one of them. And why?  Check out the graphic below, which explains a lot:


What can we expect under DeVos?  Certainly we can expect a significant percentage of the budget for K-12 education to be diverted away from the public schools that most of our children and grandchildren attend and earmarked for school vouchers and charter schools, which benefit a relative few.

  • Schools will not be able to afford to hire the ‘best and brightest’ teachers, those who motivate and inspire children rather than simply assigning lessons and following a set curriculum
  • Schools will be forced to cut programs such as art, music, and athletics that contribute to a well-rounded education
  • Schools will not be able to afford to replace aging textbooks with more updated versions.
  • Things like supplies, building supplies and maintenance, student meals … even playground equipment and maintenance will fall by the wayside

In addition, Special Education for children with special needs could well become a thing of the past. The following is an excerpt from the DeVos confirmation hearings last month:

Senator Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire): I want to go back to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. That’s federal civil rights law. So do you stand by your statement a few minutes ago that it should be up to the states whether to follow it?

Betsy DeVos: Federal law must be followed where federal dollars are in play.

Hassan: So were you unaware when I just asked you about the IDEA that it was a federal law? 

DeVos: I may have confused it.

One final note:  Charter schools and school vouchers tend to be religious schools, further reducing the diversity that is necessary to help our children grow to be less inclined toward bigotry in all its many forms.

And yet, FIFTY Republican senators lacked the cojones to say “No” to DeVos’ confirmation.  Of course, in addition to receiving funds from DeVos and her ‘philanthropist’ family, and in addition to being cowed by the bullying of Trump, these senators have no personally vested interest, as their children all attend private schools.

While most of the attention surrounding DeVos’ nomination has focused on K-12 education, it should be noted that her confirmation also puts her in charge of the nation’s trillion-dollar student loan program.  Though she has said little on the topic of higher education, she has criticized proposals for free college education and also for student debt elimination programs.

The U.S. currently ranks 115th worldwide in linguistic diversity, and 14th in education. The U.S. ranks only 7th in literacy worldwide.  I will be very curious to check those statistics in a few years, after DeVos has had time to implement her elitist policies.

Ms. DeVos’ confirmation is yet another huge black mark on our nation.  It is a sad day when we put the desires of a few above the needs of the many, yet that is exactly what was done today.  We cannot hope to remain a competitive and respected nation if we allow our system of education to fail the majority of students, which is precisely what Ms. DeVos has proposed.  Great job, Senators … the future of our nation rests on your consciences.

Dumb, Dumber and … Betsy DeVos

Senate confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet picks have been underway since January 10th, and frankly do not seem to be going well, overall.  Under normal circumstances, I would say that at least 75% of his selections will be unconfirmed, but as we are all aware, we are in the post-truth, topsy-turvy world of Trump, and nothing is normal.  Trump was hoping all his nominations to be confirmed today, the day of his inauguration, but Republicans in Congress were more realistically hoping for seven confirmations today. I will be very surprised to see that happen.

Technically, his nominations cannot be put to a vote by the senate until after Trump takes the oath of office at noon.  Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that the only two that will be voted upon today are:

  • Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, Trump’s nominee for Defense secretary
  • Retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security

Ethical questions about the others will likely keep their nominations from coming to a vote just yet, if ever.  Tom Price, the nominee for Health and Human Services secretary has been questioned about his investments in health care stocks. Then there are Mick Mulvaney, the nominee for budget director who failed to pay required taxes for a babysitter; Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO and secretary of State nominee who has refused to recuse himself from future issues involving the company; and Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner and Trump’s nominee for treasury secretary, who failed to disclose $100 million in assets on forms he gave the Senate Finance Committee. As Senator Schumer remarked, “The president-elect is not draining the swamp … he’s filling it up.”  I would agree … filling it with rich, white, greedy men and women. Republicans, who hold a 52-seat-majority in the Senate, need only 51 votes to confirm Trump’s nominees. However, Democrats have the power under Senate rules to drag out the process by insisting on days of debate before a vote.

Interestingly, nominees Mattis, Pompeo, Tillerson and Kelly all veered somewhat from Trump’s positions in their confirmation hearings last week on issues of trade, border security, foreign policy, Iran, and — perhaps most frequently — Russia.  But that is a story for another day, as today I wish to use my time and words to address one nominee and her hearing, specifically Betsy DeVos.  I recently wrote about DeVos and her high level of incompatibility and incompetence for the job of Secretary of Education.  The woman has never been either a teacher or an administrator, never even attended public schools, has worked to take funding away from public schools for charter schools and private/religious school vouchers.  Presumably Trump’s reason for nominating her was, a) the fact that she and her husband are billionaires many times over, and b) that she is the least qualified person he could find for the position.  Both of those seem to be his leading criteria in most of his selections.

Ms. DeVos has taken a page from Trump’s playbook … the page that says “answer no question directly, but always circumvent.” Let us take a quick look at some of the answers she gave to questions during her three-and-a-half hour confirmation hearing:

Q: “Can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny from public education?”

DeVos: “I’m hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.”

I told you … she took a page right out of Trump’s playbook! Never, ever, give a direct answer.

Q: “Do you think that guns have any place in or around schools?”

DeVos: “I think that’s best left to locales and states to decide. I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

It happens that the Senator who asked this question was Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, where, in 2012, a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Really smart answer, Betsy.

Q: “Do you think K-12 schools that receive federal funding should meet the same accountability standards, outcome standards?”

DeVos: “Yes. Although, you have different accountability standards between traditional public schools and charter schools.”

Q: “And, if confirmed, will you insist upon that equal accountability in any K-12 school or educational program that receives federal funding whether public, public charter or private?”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Q: “Equal accountability for all schools that receive federal funding.”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Q: “Okay, is that a yes or a no?”

DeVos: “That’s a, ‘I support accountability.’ “

Q: “Do you not want to answer my question?”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Can we say “I am a broken record, I am a broken record, I am a broken record …”? It is to be noted that DeVos fought against accountability and oversight for charter schools in the past.

Q: “Should all K-12 schools that receive taxpayer funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act?”

DeVos: “I think that is a matter that’s best left to the states.”

Q: “So some states might be good to kids with disabilities, and other states might not be so good. And then, what?”

DeVos: “I think that’s an issue that’s best left to the states.”

Q: “What about the federal requirement? It’s a federal law — the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Let’s limit it to federal funding. If schools receive federal funding should they be required to follow federal law — whether they’re public, public charter, or private?”

DeVos: “I think that is certainly worth discussion.”

Q: “So were you unaware, when I just asked you about the IDEA, that it was a federal law?”

DeVos: “I may have confused it.”

Filosofa has no comment on this because … she is still picking her jaw up from the floor.

Though full transcripts of the Q&A portion of the hearings are not available at this time, I suggest for more of DeVos’ questions and answers, you check out this article in NPR … it is the most comprehensive I was able to find.

Surely nobody, after hearing three-and-a-half hours of this gibberish, can believe that this woman is in the least bit qualified to make top-level decisions regarding our public school system!  I was already convinced, based on my research into her background and policy stances, that she was unqualified, but if I had doubts, this hearing would have put them all to rest.  This woman is among the most unqualified of Trump’s nominees to perform a job that is arguably one of the most important to the survival of our democracy.  I hope that there are at least three Republican senators out of 52 who are willing to stand up for what is right, stand up for the future of this nation, follow their conscience and refuse to confirm Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

Another Trump Mis-Match!

Well, folks … he’s done it again.  Donald Trump has gone out there and found the most impossibly imperfect person to fill a cabinet position.  That person is Betsy DeVos who Trump has named to fill the position of Secretary of Education.

school2What is it, exactly, that makes DeVos such a poor choice to fill this position?  First, her education is in business administration and political science, while her career has been primarily in philanthropy and politics.  She served for many years as chairman of the Michigan republican party, but has never been either a teacher or a school administrator.  So, like the one who chose her, she has no actual experience for the job she will be stepping into.  But that is not the worst of it.

The worst of it is that she is what is known as a ‘school choice advocate’, a strong proponent of charter schools and school vouchers, neither of which do anything to help improve the public schools which the majority of children attend, and both of which actually take funding away from traditional public schools.

We have all heard of charter schools, but many may have only a fuzzy concept of what a charter school actually is and how it operates.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):

“A public charter school is a publicly funded school that is typically governed by a group or organization under a legislative contract (or charter) with the state or jurisdiction. The charter exempts the school from certain state or local rules and regulations. In return for flexibility and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards outlined in its charter. A school’s charter is reviewed periodically (typically every 3 to 5 years) by the group or jurisdiction that granted it and can be revoked if guidelines on curriculum and management are not followed or if the accountability standards are not met.”

Legally, charter schools charge no tuition, intend to provide a higher quality of education than public schools, and cannot discriminate on the basis of race, sex or disability.  The charters provide rules and guidelines and the schools are periodically reviewed to ensure they are following the rules of the charter.  The problem?  Most charter schools are funded by taxpayer dollars that would have otherwise gone into the public school system, where some 90% of all students are getting their education.  The result?  Some public schools are not receiving adequate funding to maintain school buildings, provide quality teachers, and other amenities such as books and meals.

There is much more, both positive and negative, to be said for charter schools, but I cannot possibly cover all the pros and cons here, so let us return to Ms. DeVos and her track record.

DeVos.jpgAs an advocate for school choice, DeVos has pushed for charter schools in her home state of Michigan, particularly in Detroit.  DeVos sits on the board of the Great Lakes Education Project, which advocates for its education reform priorities in the Michigan state legislature. This group is responsible for pushing the legislature to end its plans for a Detroit commission to regulate charter schools. DeVos has been at the forefront of efforts to push against accountability by charter schools. Detroit’s charter school system is considered by many to be the biggest school reform disaster in the country. For more information on this, click here. 

DeVos is also a strong advocate for school vouchers that provide government funding for tuition at private and religious schools.  Like the charter school system, these serve very few, and take funding away from public schools that serve the vast majority.

There can be no doubt, especially in light of recent events in the U.S., that our educational system is broken and in need of repair.  In a 2015 PEW Research study, U.S. students ranked 35th in Mathematics and 27th in Science.  Our schools, so focused on technology, no longer teach basic History and Civics courses.  And our literacy ranking, according to one study, is 7th among industrialized nations. However, the path to improved education for ALL is not to set aside a few schools for the benefit of less than 10% of all school children in the U.S., while taking away from the greater good, the other 90%.  Charter schools may be an equalizer for a few, but in the long run, they impede the progress of the many.  I do not pretend to have the answers, to know what steps need to be taken to improve public education in the U.S.  But one thing I do know is that a charter school system that benefits a small portion of students with minimal accountability, is most definitely not the path to fixing the educational system in the U.S.

Additionally, neither Trump nor DeVos have addressed the issue of college tuition and student loans, which is a major concern in the U.S. today, and must be a part of any attempt to improve our educational system.

Betsy DeVos, like most of Trump’s close advisors, was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and married billionaire Dick DeVos, an heir to the Amway fortune. I have nothing against the wealthy, however I think that people who have known some form of struggle, of hardship, are better able to understand the needs of the majority than those who have always resided in the upper echelons.  And I definitely think that for the position of Secretary of Education, a person with a background in the field of education would be better prepared to address the needs of our crumbling educational system.