“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”
— Diogenes Laertius
In an unsurprising, but still sad vote (tie broken by Vice-President Pence), Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education. She is particularly notable for her lack of educational experience – having never attended a public school, nor having sent her own children to one, not having any training as an educator, but having much money that she’s used to try to influence education policies in the state of Michigan in order to promote voucher programs that would funnel more money into unregulated private (primarily Christian) schools. She is so wholly unqualified that a number of former students from her alma mater wrote a letter to the Senate urging that she not be confirmed because of her lack of educational experience. While I agree that it remains to be seen what she will do in her new role, my instincts are that little of it will be good for the future of public education in this country – or even private education since she made it clear that she does not favor the same level of accountability from them as that required for public schools; and it may be particularly bad for special needs students since it became painfully obvious during her confirmation hearings that she was unaware of the policies currently in place to support them.
According to the Department of Education’s website, this is their mission:
ED’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.
ED was created in 1980 by combining offices from several federal agencies. ED’s 4,400 employees and $68 billion budget are dedicated to:
- Establishing policies on federal financial aid for education, and distributing as well as monitoring those funds.
- Collecting data on America’s schools and disseminating research.
- Focusing national attention on key educational issues.
- Prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.
I fear that it may be changing the mission statement in a short while.
As a reminder of the value that our earliest leaders placed on education, I share the following sampling of quotes:
“Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter. From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence, I must confess that I do apprehend some danger. I fear that they may place too implicit a confidence in their public servants, and fail properly to scrutinize their conduct; that in this way they may be made the dupes of designing men, and become the instruments of their own undoing. Make them intelligent, and they will be vigilant; give them the means of detecting the wrong, and they will apply the remedy.” — Daniel Webster
“A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” — James Madison
“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.” — John Adams
“Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.” — Thomas Jefferson
“A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?” — George Washington
Image of the Library of Congress.