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Betsy DeVos Watch: More student protests and hypocritical commencement speeches

December 22, 2017

What has come to be commonplace when Betsy DeVos visits a campus or speaks publicly across the country, she is greeted by people who protest her policies and her presence. 

Earlier in the week, DeVos gave the commencement address at the University of Baltimore. As has happened at other campuses where DeVos was scheduled to speak, students and faculty attempted to get the administration to cancel the Secretary of Education’s talk.

Before the graduation ceremony people gathered outside of the auditorium to protest the decision of the university to have DeVos as the commencement speaker, as you can see in some of these photos above.

During the commencement speech by DeVos, about 50 students that were graduating turned their back on DeVos, while others booed during her comments as can be seen in the photo below.

In addition, to the protests that confronted DeVos during her speech, it is worth looking a bot at what she had to say. In many ways, what the Secretary of Education had to say was what she has said in previous talks. However, there were a few things Betsy DeVos had to say that is worth discussing. 

DeVos was talking about three character building points that will help students succeed in the world. These three are the challenge to be thoughtful, the challenge to be selfless and the challenge to persevere. She then set out to explain what she meant by each of these character building points.

On the matter of being thoughtful, she said:

Spend just a few minutes watching cable news and you’ll encounter folks who haven’t followed that advice. On social media and on many college campuses, groups and individuals pit themselves against each other — not to discuss and debate deeply held beliefs or ideas — but to raise decibels, score “got’cha” points or shout down an opponent’s voice.

But we will not solve the significant and real problems our country faces if we cannot embrace this paradox of silence.

There is an element of truth to what DeVos is saying here, but when you look at the context of the current political culture, it makes complete sense that people do not want to have a dialogue or a debate with white supremacists, misogynists or homophobes and transphobic people. In fact, there has been a push for people to be “civil,” when in fact this push for civility has led to compromise and complicity in hate speech and hate-based violence.

In addition, the DeVos Family is notorious for spending millions of dollars to buy candidates and lobby policies. This political spending is considered a form of speech that seeks to silence those who do not have deep pockets, like the DeVos Family. Betsy DeVos herself has said, “I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede that point…..we do expect something in return.” This admission should be understood from a class point of view that rich people, by virtue of their wealth, have the loudest voices in society today.

In regards to the second character building point, DeVos stated:

That brings me to a related challenge: to be selfless. This might also come off as counterintuitive in today’s “me-first” culture. But we would do well to recognize that we are — and always will be — greater than the sum of our parts.

I’m inspired by these lines from Scripture: “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor.”

Too many try to invert the Golden Rule. “Don’t do to others what you would not want done to you.” The inversion suggests that if we just look out for ourselves, we’d all be better off.

Talking about being selfless, when one comes from a millionaire family and marries into a billionaire family seem rather hypocritical. The DeVos Family, which owns numerous homes across the country, has their own yacht, airplanes and helicopters seems a bit like the “me-first” culture the Secretary of Education is referring to. Betsy DeVos has lived her entire life in a me-first culture, where she has never known what it means to go without, to have to make the difficult decision as a parent to provide food to her children or a warm home to live in.

In fact, it is insulting for DeVos to refer to the “Golden Rule,” unless of course she means, that those with the Gold, should rule.

The third, and last character building principle the Secretary of Education elaborated on was:

The last challenge I’m going to lay out today – to persevere – may well be the most difficult to actually do. That’s because our culture seems to promote the ideal of a sheltered life, free of hardship. This siren song tempts us to always take the easy road, the path of least resistance.

Again, the idea of perseverance from someone who has known material comfort and excess her entire life, seems rather shallow. I’m not saying that billionaires never have to persevere, but it’s hard to take someone like Betsy DeVos seriously, when talking about avoiding the least path of resistance.

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