You may not have heard the name Betsy DeVos until recently – but if you have been a follower of Progressive media over the past several years, you know quite a bit about her family.
Now that she is Trump’s top pick for Secretary of Education, information is coming out about DeVos that should make supporters of public schools (not to mention anyone who believes in separation of church and the secular state) gravely concerned. Her stated goal is nothing less than the dismantling of America’s public education system, handing it all over to the control of private, for-profit corporations and religious organizations.
Before marrying Richard DeVos, Jr., heir to the multi-billion dollar Amway fortune, Betsy DeVos’ last name was Prince. Her brother is none other than Erik Prince, founder of the private paramilitary security firm Blackwater, Inc. (now known as Academi) That company made its billions of its own during the Bush 2 Administration costly and profitable little adventure in Iraq. DeVos is just one of a number of white billionaires Trump plans to appoint to key Cabinet positions – as well as yet another nominee that has little to no experience in the area that she would be overseeing.
A native of Michigan, DeVos attended the private Holland Christian High School, then went on to get her degree in business administration and political science at private Calvin College in Grand Rapids. That college was named for 16th Century theologian John Calvin, who gave his name to the term “Calvinism” – a rigid form of Christianity that teaches the doctrine of “innate depravity” (in other words, humans are evil by nature). Calvinism has had a profound effect upon American society and culture – and it is the cornerstone of DeVos’ religious faith.
Throughout her career, DeVos has been a forceful advocate for private school vouchers, essentially funneling taxpayer money away from public institutions and giving over to private, for-profit and religious schools.
While Trump describes DeVos as “a brilliant and passionate education advocate” who will help to “reform the U.S. education system,” the fact is that she is not an educator, and has absolutely no experience teaching in a classroom. She is a businessperson. In keeping with her Calvinist upbringing and beliefs, she believes capitalist free-market neoliberal economics (in other words, handing public institutions over to private corporate interests) is the ultimate answer for everything. Although DeVos does not say as such, it is likely that the idea of taxpayers subsidizing right-wing conservative Christianity is very appealing as well.
Rabbi Jack Moline, who heads the Interfaith Alliance, expresses grave concern about Trump’s choice for Education Secretary. He says, “raiding the public treasury to subsidize private businesses and religious organizations runs against the public trust and the Constitution…it suggests that he has little regard for our nation’s public schools or the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.”
Of course, it won’t be the last time Trump spits on the Constitution in order to advance the corporatist agenda.
There is some question about Trump’s choice of DeVos, as well as others he is gathering around his coming Administration. DeVos originally opposed Trump’s candidacy, telling the media this past March that “he does not represent the Republican Party.”
It is possible that Trump’s VP, Mike Pence, had something to do with it. As governor of Indiana, Pence – himself a right-wing theocrat whose objective is to impose his brand of Christianity far and wide – successfully expanded the Hoosier State’s voucher program. Julie Ingersoll, who teaches Religious Studies at North Florida University, points out that it has been “a long-standing goal of the Religious Right to replace public education with Christian education…the long term strategy of how to change culture is through education.”
The right wing in this country has definitely been in this for the long term – and now, they are on the verge of total triumph. Should DeVos be confirmed by the GOP-controlled Congress, it will represent a major step forward toward the cementing of corporate and theocratic control over America. We can only hope that the Democrats and what few Republicans of conscience remain in the legislature will stand up for real Constitutional principles and oppose the appointment of DeVos and Trump’s other corporate billionaire cronies…but don’t hold your breath.