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Betsy DeVos Watch: When Role Models Visit a School for Girls

April 7, 2017

Last week, we kicked off the first installment in our series of articles under the heading of Betsy DeVos Watch. 

In this week’s article we take a look at a visit from the Secretary of Education to a charter school in the nation’s capitol. DeVos was visiting Excel Academy in Washington, DC and began her brief comments by stating, “As we bring our education system into the 21st century, it is important we highlight the many types of different schools serving the varied and unique needs of individual students.”  

Of course, there is nothing surprising about these comments or which school DeVos visited, since she has been saying for years that she thinks that charter and private schools would be better for the country.

However, what was more interesting than the fact that Betsy DeVos visited Excel Academy, was who she brought with her. Accompanying the Secretary of Education was the President’s wife Melania Trump and Queen Rania Al-Abdullah from Jordan. Excel Academy is an all girls school, which is why DeVos chose two women to be her guests for the school visit on Wednesday.

DeVos ended her comments at Excel Academy by stating, “I’m honored to have joined First Lady Melania Trump and Queen Rania Al-Abdullah in visiting this exemplary school. I thank Excel Academy for shaping these young women’s lives in a positive and meaningful way.”

Let us take a moment to unpack what kind of message DeVos and her guests could have sent to the all-female students who attend Excel Academy and what kind of role models each of the them represent in the real world.

First, Betsy DeVos grew up in a family that was extremely wealthy and one that had very reactionary beliefs about women and families. Betsy then married into an even wealthier family, which also has a long history of supporting religious values that often demean women and promote patriarchal values. Both the DeVos and Prince families have spent millions of dollars supporting groups like Focus on the Family, The Family Research Council and Promise Keepers (just to name a few), all of which promote patriarchal values with very narrowly defined gender roles. The young girls attending Excel Academy could also learn the idea that wealth gives you power, buys you access and allows you the ability to impose your will on the rest of society.

Then there is the President’s wife Melania Trump. There have been lots of demeaning things written about Melania and we in no way want to contribute to gossip and petty views about the President’s wife. However, we will say that it is no doubt quite probable that these girls that attend Excel Academy are aware of the history of how Trump has viewed women, along with the sexist comments he has made and doesn’t apologize for. What sort of message does that send to these girls at Excel Academy.

Lastly, there is Queen Rania Al-Abdullah from Jordan. While some might think that being royalty is rather cool, the fact is that Jordanians live under a monarchy, do not have terribly progressive policies regarding women and girls and on top of that are a major recipient of US military aid.

So when Betsy DeVos says she wants to see young women’s lives be shaped in a positive and meaningful way, we would say don’t use the Secretary of Education and her guests as role models.

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