Lifestyle of the Rich and the Famous

There’s a Bill Murray quote that I think sums up DeVos’s experience as Educational Secretary so far. It goes:

“I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘try being rich first’. See if that doesn’t cover most of it. There’s not much downside to being rich, other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money. But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour job.”

DeVos has a lot of money. Like, a lot of money. It’s something people love to slam her for.  Her limitless funds have contributed to numerous establishments in her hometown of Grand Rapids – the DeVos Performance Hall (with adjoining wine bar), the DeVos Place Convention Center, the DeVos Children’s Hospital, the DeVos Center for Arts and Worship at the Grand Rapids Christian High School, even a parking lot with her name on it.

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DeVos Place Convention Center. Image from tripadvisor.com

She’s poured millions of dollars into the Potter’s House, a K-12 Christian school in Grand Rapids, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation she and her husband started, the American Federation for Children, the West Michigan Aviation Academy, and not to be forgotten – the Michigan Republican party.

Her efforts, for the most part, have been localized. She’s funded programs she’s invested in within her own town or state, and in doing so, has shown her support for their mission. And the people liked it. Citizens of Grand Rapids saw a generous family, looking to help out, dedicated to their beliefs. And if you didn’t like, well, you just sent your kid to the public school across town. For DeVos, it was easy to fund one school that does things the way she liked it.

Now multiply that by the 98,817 public schools in the US. Plus 33,619 private schools.

Much of DeVos intended policy for the US focuses on school choice. She wants to up funding for charter and private schools, and then provide vouchers for low-income students so they can choose the school they want to attend. This is her solution to the achievement gap. An investment in individual children, she says.

Growing up in a lower middle class family, where we never went out to eat unless it was a special occasion, didn’t buy new clothes unless we had a legitimate reason, public school was our only option. But even if we had the option of private or charter schools, I don’t think my parents would have taken it. There are more expenses than just tuition – driving to school because there often isn’t a school bus, uniforms, booster clubs. Not to mention an entirely different culture that could easily alienate students from other demographics.

Philanthropy is all well and good, but it seems to be a huge element of DeVos career before she became Educational Secretary. And as Educational Secretary, you can’t just throw (government) money at schools across the country and expect things to immediately improve. I think her narrow scope of exposure and experience is showing, and not in a good way. While funding is a large part of her job, deciding policy, meeting with educators, and being the face of US education are all also parts of the job that fall under the close scrutiny of the whole world.  of her Her streak of public faux pas continues – the latest her comparing school choice to ridesharing programs. News outlets and social media users continue to critique and ridicule her for almost everything she says, every appearance she makes.

Perhaps DeVos would have been better off staying rich, not rich and famous.

 

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Question and Answer

I think Betsy DeVos is just really bad at answering questions.

If we look at much of the criticism surrounding her, a lot of it stems from her confirmation hearing. (See: students need guns to protect themselves from grizzly bears.) Perhaps there is some warranted caution about her lack of experience in public school, but you can read more of my thoughts on that in my first blog post.

The reason I say she’s really bad at answering questions is because of the Q&A page on her website.

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From betsydevos.com/q-a/

The first question reads: What are five things we might not know about you?

DeVos’s first answer is that she’s a grandmother. How sweet. Not really a “fun-fact” or anything earth-shatteringly unexpected, but nice. Makes us feel warm and cozy.

Next she tells us she’s a lifelong resident of Michigan. Also, not particularly wild, but slightly more exciting than the Grandma trivia.

The next three items are aspects of Devos that are plastered all over her website.

She tells us she’s an advocate for children, an activist, and an entrepreneur. If you look at the other tabs of her website, they are: education, policy and involvement. Education = children; policy = activist; involvement = entrepreneur. I didn’t actually have to read or even skim another page of her website to know that about her. Not to mention the opening page of her website explicitly uses the words “advocate,” “politics,” “innovator,” and “education.”

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From betsydevos.com

The only possible explanation for her silly answers it that she simply did not compute the question. More than half of the list were things we already knew about her. Something got lost in translation.

According to this video  Hypeline News put out and The Libertarian Republican published, college students actually agree with DeVos’s policy when her name isn’t attatched. In the opening few minutes, the interviewer asks random college students what they think of DeVos — to which they respond with the usual answers: she’s unqualified, doesn’t know what she’s doing, anyone or no one would be better for the job than her. However, when the interviewer asks them their opinion on policy ideas, like offering vouchers to low income families so they can chose a school for their kid, the college students agree. They also like DeVos’s slogan that “a zip code shouldn’t determine an education.” Some were shocked to learn that she founded multiple organizations which promoted educational equality for all children (so maybe that fun fact actually was warranted then…)

 

While there are obviously some debatable elements of this video (of course everyone is going to agree when asked if they think poor kids should get to go to school), I think a lot of the negative association that follows DeVos around is from her inability to market herself well. The core of her values are not as ridiculous, dumb, or laughable as she presents herself. Whether we want someone with the inability to answer questions in charge of our education system is a whole other conversation.

Of Typos and Twitter

Since we last left our hero, things haven’t really improved. DeVos, following in her boss’s footsteps, took to Twitter this week. It didn’t go well. She provided ample content which social media users and media outlets used to ridicule her.

The first episode of Twitter drama didn’t come from DeVos personally, but the US Department of Education account. The account tweeted, “Education must not simply tweet work – it must teach life. W.E.B. DeBois” misspelling the DuBois as DeBois.

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In an effort to correct themselves, the account then tweeted, “Post updated – our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo.” Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 11.21.47 AM

If you can’t spot the typo in that one, just stop reading.

Many used this gaffe to personally attack DeVos, but she gave them something even better.

Earlier in the week she tweeted: “Day 1 on the job is done, but we’re only getting started. Now where do I find the pencils? 🙂 ” with a dramatic black and white picture from behind of DeVos clad in a business professional sheath dress and sensible heels, walking into an elegant and studious office.

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You know that one friend in each friend group that everyone mercilessly makes fun of? So much so that they basically walk into scenarios that makes them the butt of a joke? We all know that guy. My last boyfriend was that guy. DeVos is that guy.

Out of context, her tweet is obviously supposed to be a mild-mannered joke. In context, this is further ammunition for critiques of DeVos who love to slam her for her lack of experience. (Hint: that’s pretty much everyone). The rhetoric surrounding the entirety of her confirmation process focused on her minimal involvement in public schools and her inability to answer basic questions about the current American education system. So to ask something as basic as “Where do I find the pencils?” further promotes the stigma. It’s a doe-eyed deer joke that mawkishly giggles, “look at me, the newbie! I have no idea what I’m doing! Hehe I’m so innocent hope I don’t mess up my first day on the job!” but that’s exactly how the public perceived DeVos. And she bought right into it.

I find it hard to believe DeVos has complete control over her social media accounts. First of all, shouldn’t she be too busy, I don’t know, developing policy? to be Tweeting. Second of all, social media is a huge weapon, today’s braindead megaphone, and should not be in the hands of those who cannot handle its power. With great power, comes great responsibility, as wise Uncle Ben said, and that tweet was less than responsible.

Given that, I believe it was fully intentional. I’ve watched enough political dramas to know politicians spend millions of dollars and many midnight hours on campaign strategists who devote their lives specifically to this sort of thing. And if I, a 22 year old college student with no political science experience, can figure out what a faux pas that was, there’s no way it slipped by some of the most powerful DC minds.

So that leads us to the question of why? Why say something that plays right into the hands of the media? Why say something that will rile up journalists and Tweeters everywhere? Why make yourself the butt of an SNL skit?

For the same reason, I think, as the friend everyone makes fun of. Attention. Sure, it’s negative attention, but still…who are people talking about? And what are they talking about? Betsy DeVos, educational secretary, on her first day on the job. Despite all the criticism thrown at her, the dramatic day of selection, the down to the wire historic vote, the petitions and protests, there she still is, , walking into her Washington D.C. office. She still got the job. She still won. And people are still talking about her.

 

 

Decided: DeVos

As I write this, the interwebs are exploding with opinions on the newly confirmed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Most are negative. Words like afraid, angry, sickend and saddened litter the blue and white screen of Facebook and Twitter. It’s not unlike the day after election day. I, personally, only know bits and pieces of DeVos’s planned policy, and I want to know more.

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DeVos is confirmed. Image from cnn.com

As of 9:29pm on Tuesday, February 7th, I’ve read articles on DeVos’ confirmation from BBC, The New York Times, NPR, Fox News, The Atlantic, and The Boston Globe. Here’s what I’ve gleaned:

  • The media criticizes Devos for 3 major things: her stance on charter schools, her poor performance during her confirmation hearing, and her grizzly bear comment. Most all of this stems from her lack of experience with public schools. Every article noted how she, herself, did not attend public school, nor did she send her children to public school. She’s never worked as an educator. But, it was all about the spin. Some news sources noted that as a politician, she didn’t need to work in the education system. Others noted that her lack of hands-on experience doesn’t qualify her as someone to be in charge.
  • Federal funds are a minimal percentage of educational funding. I didn’t know this before. So, it doesn’t seem like DeVos will have much influence regarding funding – unless it’s through policy change.
  • Her wealth and how she used it was called into question. She has donated a lot to Republican candidates and Republican agendas. She also spent a lot on her lobbying efforts to expand charter schools in Michigan, a campaign that was not well received and seemed to have no ultimate long term effects.
  • SNL sketches do more than just make us laugh.
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Devos’s pre-confirmation hearing. Image from politico.com

My take:

I was surprised that no article mentioned her own education, aside from noting she didn’t attend a public school. Not one article mentioned how well she did in school, where she went to college, what she studied, etc. It was also difficult to figure out what her position on education is – perhaps because she, herself, is flaky on her actual position or because the news sources only focused on specific statements of hers. Just becuase someone didn’t go to public school or send her kids to public school, doesn’t mean she is opposed to public school as an institution and wants to shut them down completely. It seems like some overarching conclusions are being drawn.

While there are obvious concerns about DeVos and the statements she has made, I think some good can come from this. First, the public is actually paying attention to education. I couldn’t tell you any of the previous Education Secretaries. People are actively and forcefully voicing their concerns over education in America, an area in desperate need of attention that it rarely receives. It’s a little saddening to me that it takes such a controversial and perhaps unqualified candidate for people to pay attention to the issues with education in America.

It’s hard to draw any conclusions or form an opinions when each news outlet clearly has its own agenda. Despite what anyone thinks about DeVos and whether or not she is qualified for the job, it’s concerning to me that someone so many people doubt, won by 51 to an opposing 50. As someone who spent her life working in education, I hope she realizes that 51% is still a failing grade.

I hope during these next few weeks to explore look closely at some of DeVos’s intended policy and to continue observe society’s opinion of her.