Queen Betsy: It’s Lonely at the Top

No one likes her. In an extraordinary feat of Trumpish alienation, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has managed to pull off a rare accomplishment in America’s educational culture wars. Namely, she has managed to get progressive and conservative intellectuals to agree on something.

betsy devos dolores umbridge

Saving Hogwarts: Something we can all agree on?

From the Left, Curmudgucrat Peter Greene—my personal favorite writer on teachers, students, and schools—recently offered a reminder of good reasons to protest against Queen Betsy. It’s not because protesters hope to get QB to change her mind or her anti-public-school policies. So why bother picketing QB’s public appearances? Why go to the schools QB visits with signs and placards?

Greene offers a long list of reasons to protest in person. As he concludes,

No, it’s not going to suddenly make everything better if you stand up and speak up, but the alternative is to step back and watch it get worse.

Certainly QB likely has many friends—or at least allies—on the pro-charter side of the education spectrum. But American Conservative writer Michael Shindler isn’t one of them. Shindler doesn’t think people should rise up and speak out against QB ala Peter Greene, but Shindler DOES yearn for a more authentically conservative educational leader.

Shindler is all for shrinking the federal government. But he opposes QB’s recently announced plan to merge the Education Department with the Department of Labor into one big “Workforce” Department.

Why? As Shindler puts it,

to merge the Department of Education with the Department of Labor and redirect its purpose toward DeVos’s beloved “workforce programs,” which explicitly aim at making students good workers rather than good citizens, would be to steer it away from its imperative mission. That would threaten the very foundations of our democracy.

Instead, education policy should be directed toward helping young people understand their responsibilities as citizens of a republic.

The reasoning of these writers from different ends of the political spectrum is not so different after all. Both Greene and Shindler insist that formal education must be about something more than training young people to be productive earners. Both insist that education must remain a transformative experience, an experience that empowers every individual and fosters a profound, authentic citizens’ voice in public affairs.

If intellectuals of the Right and Left can notice that they agree on that, maybe we’re not so bitterly divided about education after all.

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20 Comments

  1. If intellectuals of the Right and Left can notice that they agree on that, maybe we’re not so bitterly divided about education after all.

    As long as the schools stop teaching evolution and start the day with compulsory Christian prayer, those on the Right will be happy.

    Reply
    • Agellius

       /  July 18, 2018

      “As long as the schools stop teaching evolution and start the day with compulsory Christian prayer, those on the Right will be happy.”

      True. However, it doesn’t have to be in a school where people who don’t want to pray are forced to. It’s the left that wants to compel everyone to learn and do all the same things.

      For example, the Orange County Department of Education issued a memo on March 29, 2018, stating that the right of parents to opt out of sex education “does not apply to instruction, materials, or programming that discusses gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation….” The memo continues: “…parents who disagree with the instructional materials related to gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation may not excuse their children from this instruction.”

      This is pursuant to the California Healthy Youth Act.

      [https://patch.com/california/sanjuancapistrano/orange-county-department-education-discuss-sex-education]

      Let people spend their public education money on the schools of their choice and we can all do our own thing, and not force people to do things they object to.

      Reply
      • Zoiks, that sounds new to me. In the past, opt-out had always been part of the promise of public-school sex-ed, just like an earlier generation offered opt-outs to public-school prayers.

  2. “Let people spend their public education money on the schools of their choice and we can all do our own thing, and not force people to do things they object to.” And how would this work exactly, given that there are many millions of us who pay taxes to support public education but have no children in school?

    Reply
    • Agellius

       /  July 18, 2018

      Douglas:

      I’m not sure what you’re asking. It’s already the case that millions of people pay to support education who have no children in school. In Great Britain public money is used to support religious schools. You could look to them to see how it works exactly. They have managed to avoid turning into a theocracy somehow.

      But my point is this: You object to funding schools where prayers are said; I object to funding schools where parents can’t opt out of instructional materials that treat transgenderism as unquestionably valid. We have to fight over these things because there’s only one public school system in each geographic area. Someone is bound to feel like others are imposing their views on them. Let people choose their own schools and we would have less to fight about. Plus, you know, freedom of choice.

      Reply
      • Of course, but the point is surely you see a difference between a public school and a private religious school? For one thing, public schools are required to pretty much take and accommodate all comers whereas privates don’t. Would you support your tax dollars for my private Muslim school where Sharia Law, the Koran, Jihad, etc. was the framework for all instruction?

      • Agellius

         /  July 18, 2018

        Funding a Muslim school would not be worse to me than funding de facto atheistic and amoral public schools is. The advantages of private school funding would outweigh the drawbacks.

        Of course, standards would have to be met in order to receive public funding. I’m not advocating funding any random school that people decide to send their kids to. But the standards would have nothing to do with the presence or absence of religion.

        Also, I envision publicly run atheistic warehouse schools continuing to function, so long as the demand justifies it.

      • In Great Britain public money is used to support religious schools. You could look to them to see how it works exactly. They have managed to avoid turning into a theocracy somehow.

        Technically speaking, Britain is a theocracy with the queen as head of state and head of the Church. But, as the saying goes, it is a theocracy in theory only, but certainly not in practice.

      • Agellius

         /  July 18, 2018

        Neil,

        Exactly. It has an “established religion,” prohibited by our Constitution, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming more atheistic than the U.S. Yet we cling frantically to our “wall of separation,” as if public funding of a Catholic school will lead to the rebirth of the Inquisition.

      • However, you cannot compare the two that way. Religion developed differently in the USA primarily because of the non-establishment clause of the first amendment and the traditions that led to that clause.

      • Agellius

         /  July 18, 2018

        That’s fine. Nevertheless, if the government is willing to fund schools run by any religion, whether Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or Jewish, it can hardly be accused of officially endorsing any particular one of them.

      • If the government gets to fund schools run by religions, then the government gets to control the curriculum in those schools.

      • Agellius

         /  July 19, 2018

        To an extent, of course. As already happens with religious colleges and universities. But that doesn’t stop them from teaching theology and morality and having crucifixes in classrooms. Again it wouldn’t be ideal, but it would still be better than what we have now, where the government controls the curriculum and theology and crucifixes are banished.

      • Agellius

         /  July 19, 2018

        By the way, when I talk about government funding religious schools, I’m not talking about direct funding by the government but something more like vouchers provided to individual students.

      • As a fiscal conservative, I insist that if the government uses a voucher system for education, then it has a responsibility to the taxpayers to make sure that the schools accepting those vouchers provide an adequate education. And I would expect that to include what is taught in science classes (i.e. evolution, not creationism).

      • Agellius

         /  July 19, 2018

        I agree. As I said before, any school receiving government funds would have to meet educational standards, as the vast majority of religious schools already do.

  3. Do you agree that private religious schools would have to meet acceptance, accommodation and non-discrimination standards and laws as well as educational standards?

    Reply
    • Agellius

       /  July 19, 2018

      I think if they agree to accept government money, then they should expect to have government strings attached, as is the case with colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs.

      Reply
      • As Robert Gross argued in Public vs. Private, in the period 1870-1900ish Catholic school leaders actively courted and created state regulation of their (private) Catholic schools in order to secure valuable property-tax exemptions. In his words (pg. 46):

        The very same regulations that restricted private schools’ religious and institutional autonomy also enabled their access to valuable public funds. Beginning in the 1870s, parochial school advocates first in Rhode Island and then Ohio accepted, and indeed fought for, forms of public regulation in return for maintaining an important fiscal subsidy: the property tax exemption.

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