Douglas Andrews / Dec. 18, 2020

Betsy’s Battle With Big Education

Billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos made a difference, despite shabby treatment from the Big Ed bureaucracy.

“Every great cause,” said philosopher Eric Hoffer, “begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

Hoffer wasn’t speaking about the Department of Education, but he could’ve been. How else to explain a 4,000-employee cabinet-level department, earnestly created by Jimmy Carter in 1979, which has continued to grow and gobble up taxpayer funds while cranking out an inarguably inferior product and being viciously resistant to reform?

If our Department of Ed were a car, it’d be a Trabant, but with porcupine spikes.

Don’t touch!

None of this, though, is the fault of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an outsider who was vilified by the Left before her first day on the job — an outsider who, nonetheless, fought the good fight for fundamental civil rights like school choice and due process.

DeVos, whose younger brother, Erik, founded the private security firm Blackwater USA, came to Washington from a wealthy and patriotic family with high hopes for enacting educational reforms and addressing our nation’s deplorable achievement gap. She’ll leave next month unbowed, but with a realist’s view of the forces arrayed against meaningful educational reform in this country.

“DeVos, a longtime champion of school choice and critic of traditional public-school systems, was greeted by an unrelenting fusillade of criticism from the very beginning,” writes National Review’s Frederick Hess. “Most who’ve previously filled her office have been treated gently by the press and politicians. But her nomination had barely been announced before the New York Times ran a scathing critique blaming her for the state of Detroit’s schools, even though she’d never held any position with power over education in the city (or Michigan, for that matter).”

Perhaps DeVos should’ve known what she was in for from the start. Confirmed by the Senate on a 51–50 vote, hers was the first time in U.S. history that a cabinet nominee’s confirmation was decided by the vice president. Republicans should remember this, er, spirit of cooperation when they’re deciding whether to confirm Joe Biden’s cabinet picks. For a sense of the kind of classless and coordinated hostility that DeVos faced throughout her tenure, check out the interview and footage below:

Reflecting on that experience, says DeVos, “confirmed my belief that entrenched interests were going to do their best to protect the status quo, their power, and their jobs no matter what.” Indeed, she added, “It’s been truly disheartening to see just how far some people in Washington and elsewhere will go to distract from the abysmal results of ‘the system’ and protect their power.”

It’s no doubt disheartening, too, when the mainstream media takes what a cabinet secretary says and maliciously twists it into something it isn’t. Take, for example, her remarks from an all-staff meeting on Tuesday: “Be the resistance against forces that will derail you from doing what’s right for students,” she said. “In everything you do, please put students first — always.”

Please put students first — always. And yet, as The Federalist’s Jonah Gottschalk reports, “The left-wing media sphere swarmed. The articles cherry-picked the word ‘resistance’ out of her full statement and used it to falsely claim that DeVos was orchestrating some kind of insurgency against Joe Biden. The irony, of course, is that numerous U.S. Department of Education staffers have participated in the organized leftist ‘resistance’ against the policies of the duly elected President Trump.”

Secretary DeVos didn’t need this. She could’ve easily and more comfortably continued her educational activism and philanthropy from a safe distance, away from the Beltway media and The Mob. But, like a true Patriot, she answered the call. “Parents today are more aware of what their children are — or are not — learning,” she says. “And they’re more aware of who’s standing in the way. More than ever before, they are raising their voices for more options, for more choices, for freedom.”

Betsy DeVos made a difference, and she did so despite the nonstop slings and arrows. And for that, we owe her our thanks.

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