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Betsy DeVos Watch: Winning an award from a Right Wing Think Tank provides an opportunity to trash teacher unions

May 5, 2019

On the day that millions of people celebrate International Workers Day (May 1), Betsy DeVos was the recipient of the Alexander Hamilton Award from the Manhattan Institute in New York City.

The Manhattan Institute is a far right think tank, similar to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, based here in Michigan. The Manhattan Institute is a member of the State Policy Network, the American Legislative Exchange Council and a recipient of significant funding from the Koch Brothers.

The Manhattan Institute is a climate change denier and they think that bi-lingual resources are a waste of money. Charles Murray, author of the white supremacist diatribe, The Bell Curve, was a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. David Frum, who was the speechwriter for President George W. Bush and coined the term “Axis of Evil,” went to the Bush White House from the Manhattan Institute.

However, one of the main issues that the Manhattan Institute has invested their analysis and financial resources on, is to dismantle the public school system in the US. In fact, the Manhattan Institute has been involved in the current “education reform movement,” the one that Betsy DeVos and her family have spent millions on as a counter to public education.

Betsy DeVos gave a speech, sharing her thoughts on winning the award from the Manhattan Institute, even posting the speech on the US Department of Education’s website.  It’s instructive to note that if you look at the archives of her posted speeches, since becoming Secretary of Education a little more than 2 years ago, you notice that many of her speeches have been at annual far right think tank events or conferences put on by groups that promote charter schools and the privatization of education and educational services.

So what pearls of wisdom did Betsy DeVos share with those attending the Manhattan Institute’s Annual Dinner?

DeVos began her comments talking about the wisdom of Alexander Hamilton and then used her brief referencing of Hamilton to claim that only, “15% of America’s students have a reasonable understanding of American History.”

The Secretary of Education then went on to dismiss the amount of money that the City of New York was spending on public education as “wasteful” and stated:

Education spending, Milton Friedman said, “will be most effective if it relies on parental choice and private initiative.”

However, the main thrust of DeVos’ comments were framed by this statement:

“a cabal has rooted itself between students and their education to protect “what is” at the expense of what could be. Their fingers are in their ears, too, refusing to hear the chorus of voices demanding better. Instead of pursuing innovations for students, they pursue protections from politicians for themselves.”

What DeVos refers to a cabal, she means teacher unions.

Betsy DeVos then goes on to say that her department is “breaking the stranglehold Washington has on America’s students, teachers, and schools starting with all the social engineering from the previous administration.

For Neoliberal capitalist like Betsy DeVos, all social programs, like Title IX are nothing more than a form of social engineering and must be dismantled at all cost. DeVos and her fellow ideologues believe that the market, not social programs, will provide people the freedom they need to be successful in life.

DeVos continues to criticize public education spending and then counters that spending with her own spending scheme known as Education Freedom Scholarships. The Education Freedom Scholarships are essentially a way for the federal government to subsidize states which will then offer the money to students to attend charter schools instead of public schools. 

DeVos ends her comments with some nationalistic sentiments that border on the bizarre:

American education must lead the world because America must lead the world. America is still the beacon of hope for freedom-loving people. And more freedom at home means Lady Liberty’s torch shines even brighter abroad.

When people like Betsy DeVos mean that the US should lead the world, she means the US should be in charge, both economically and militarily. However, there is great irony in the last sentence about freedom and the state of liberty, especially for an administration that is hell-bent on arresting, detaining and criminalizing millions of immigrant families to the point of locking them in cages. DeVos’ concept of freedom here is straight up Orwellian and should be a clear indication to how she and her family view the world.

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