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Betsy DeVos’s Private School Boredom

December 27, 2016

In 2013, Philanthropy Today published an interview with Michigan billionaire, Betsy DeVos. In November 2016, President-elect Donald Trump nominated DeVos as US secretary of education.

DeVos is not a supporter of public education. She prefers to voucherize public ed right out of existence.

At the outset of her 2013 interview, DeVos declares that not only are traditional public schools “not succeeding”; she adds that “in many cases, they are failing.” Note that DeVos does not consider remedying the “non-succeeding/failing” public schools. Instead, her belief is that what parents need is an escape.

Her preferred escape is via vouchers to private schools.

DeVos considers the proliferation of vouchers to be success in and of itself. If “choice” is present and expanding– particularly vouchers to private schools– then the public school problem is suitably addressed in the estimation of Betsy DeVos.

Here is how her 2013 interview begins:

PHILANTHROPY: It’s been more than 50 years since Milton Friedman wrote “The Role of Government in Education,” which made the first principled case for school choice. It’s coming up on 25 years since Wisconsin instituted the nation’s first private-school voucher program in Milwaukee. So, how do you feel about progress to date?

MRS. DEVOS: Well, I’ve never been more optimistic. Today there are about 250,000 students in 33 publicly funded, private-choice programs in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The movement’s growth is accelerating. Within the last year, the number of students in educational-choice programs grew by about 40,000. In 2012, we saw new programs in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Mississippi, and New Hampshire, and expanded programs in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In 2011, Indiana passed a major new statewide voucher program, which is only in its second academic year and is already enrolling nearly 10,000 children. We conducted polling in five states, and found educational choice enjoyed enormous popularity, especially among Latinos.

This confluence of events is forcing people to take note, particularly because of the public’s awareness that traditional public schools are not succeeding. In fact, let’s be clear, in many cases, they are failing. That’s helped people become more open to what were once considered really radical reforms—reforms like vouchers, tax credits, and education savings accounts.

The interview continues with DeVos explaining how she became involved in “the movement” of school choice in the first place. Note that her initial involvement centered upon the enrolling of her own children in private school. (Her son, Rick DeVos III, was 21 in 2003, which means that he was born c.1982 and school aged c.1987.)

Notice that DeVos describes the private school atmosphere “electric with curiosity”:

PHILANTHROPY: You’ve been a part of the movement since it was considered radical. What got you interested in the first place?

MRS. DEVOS: Well, it’s not like there was a single incident that drew me in. It was more gradual than that. When Dick and I had school-age children ourselves, we visited the Potter’s House Christian School, which for more than 30 years has been serving a part of Grand Rapids with many low-income families. While we were at the school, we met parents who were doing everything in their power to have their kids in an environment that was safe, where they were learning, and where the atmosphere was just electric with curiosity, with love for one another.

We kept going back. We would visit, and think about what we saw, and we’d want to visit again. We knew we had the resources to send our kids to whatever school was best for them. For these parents, however, paying tuition was a real sacrifice. We started supporting individual students at the school, and that grew into a larger commitment. To this day, we support the Potter’s House at a significant level.

PHILANTHROPY: And how did supporting that one school lead you to think more broadly about education?

MRS. DEVOS: Like I mentioned, at the time, we had children who were school-age themselves. Well, that touched home. Dick and I became increasingly committed to helping other parents—parents from low-income families in particular. If we could choose the right school for our kids, it only seemed fair that they could do the same for theirs.

Dick expressed his commitment by running for the State Board of Education in Michigan; he was elected in 1990. I got involved by starting a foundation that gave scholarships to low-income families so that parents could decide where their kids would go to school. We realized very quickly that, while it was wonderful to help some families through the scholarship fund, it was never going to fundamentally address the real problem. Most parents were not going to get the scholarship they wanted, and that meant most kids would not have the opportunities they deserved.

DeVos paints private school attendance as an “opportunity” that kids “deserve.”

However, what is surprising is her commentary about her own private school experience:

It was boring.

So much for “electric with curiosity.”

In response to a question about digital learning/blended learning, DeVos’ first comment about her own high school experience regards boredom, which DeVos counts as surely magnified today since kids are apparently being denied the marvels of face-in-front-of-computer-screen in modern high school– which appears to include modern private high school:

PHILANTHROPY: So you see digital learning, blended learning, as contributing to the educational-choice movement?

MRS. DEVOS: Well, I think digital learning is in its infancy relative to the influence that it can and will have. That said, I’m amazed when I watch my not-yet-two-year-old granddaughter navigate an iPad and go to whatever game or program she wants. Every parent knows how quickly children pick up new technologies. It would be unconscionable not to embrace that and use it to help kids achieve their full potential in every way possible.

I mean, I was bored all the way through high school. I can only imagine how much more boring it is today, when you check all of those new technologies at the door and go sit in rows of desks and listen to somebody talk at you for 30 or 40 minutes. Can you imagine sitting through an indifferent lecture when you know there are programs that make learning fun, resources that make information instantly accessible? I can’t.

A resident of Holland, Michigan, DeVos attended Holland Christian High School; Holland Christian is a private school, and DeVos considers private school to be superior to public school. Boring, yes, but apparently superior, for to DeVos, there are no failing private schools– even boring ones.

When it comes to her own private school experience, DeVos does not offer effusive praise for its quality, which is a bit confusing. She does not want technology to be “checked at the door” in order to “make learning fun.”

Thus, it seems that it is not private school that is the solution, but technology at private school that is the solution.

Otherwise, students are left to be subjected to lectures, which is worse than whatever DeVos had to bear as a private high school student. (Which sounds like lectures.)

But DeVos wants students to have access to the private school privilege to which she and her children have had access.

Privileged boredom?

Not only that, but DeVos considers it good that handing technology over to toddlers should be “embraced.” However, handheld devices are becoming a questionable substitute for human interaction, even in small children.

Teens are also seriously technology addicted.

There are times for electronic devices to be “checked at the door.”

There is more to DeVos’ 2013 Philanthropy Today interview, including her role in establishing vouchers in Louisiana and her condescending nod regarding both homeschooling and charter schools as “valid” education options (anything except traditional public school is valid in DeVos’ estimation). However, charter schools are not as good a “nonpublic” schools since charters take time to start even as the nonpublics already exist and can take students immediately.

To DeVos, the nonpublic school is the way to go.

Even if it is boring, the private school cannot fail because it is nonpublic and is therefore superior.

No matter how bored a private school student is, at least that private school student is not attending one of those failing public schools, and that is good.

Just ask Betsy.

netsy-devos-bored  Betsy DeVos, looking bored


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. campak14 permalink

    She deserves a thorough vetting at her confirmation hearing.

  2. Abigail Shure permalink

    Where is the accountability factor that is crucial for public schools? Did the DeVos private school education place any emphasis on the importance of crafting a logical, coherent argument? In my neck of the woods, private schools are few and far between. How will it be possible for them to accommodate the vast majority of students currently attending public schools?

  3. I,m looking forward to a Christian school and a Muslim school on adjacent sites.

    • Yes. Those who understand how to break this game will surely start demanding DeVos’ voucher funding to go toward ALL types of religious schools and thus create a quickly vicious public outrage.

  4. Threatened out West permalink

    I hope this post comes up at the confirmation hearings, and that she gets grilled with it. Thanks for yet another wonderful post, Mercedes!

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