Bye-bye Betsy

Critics of Betsy DeVos celebrate her imminent departure as U.S. education secretary
Throughout her tenure, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos scrunched her nose and treated public education as an unpleasant smell.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Throughout her tenure, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos scrunched her nose and treated public education as an unpleasant smell.

The defeat of President Donald Trump also means the departure of Betsy DeVos, who accomplished a remarkable feat in her four years leading the U.S. Department of Education: She elevated a cabinet position that normally draws little notice into a controversial and high-profile one that earned headlines and condemnation.

And DeVos did so by denigrating public schools and venerating privatization. A billionaire who never taught in a classroom or attended public school, DeVos never indicated any interest in improving public education. She arrived with the singular goal of digging tunnels out of it with voucher programs and tax credits for private school scholarships. “This administration has a transformational plan to help America’s forgotten students escape failing schools,” she said.

DeVos created headlines even during her Senate confirmation hearing in January of 2017 when she suggested the threat of grizzly bears could necessitate guns in Wyoming schools.

A month later, in her first visit as U.S. education secretary to a public school, DeVos announced after only a brief tour of Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, D.C., that the teachers there were in “receive mode. They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.”

That led to immediate rebukes from Jefferson Academy on Twitter: “JA teachers are not in a ‘receive mode.’ Unless you mean we ‘receive’ students at a 2nd grade level and move them to an 8th grade level.”

DeVos did not temper her criticisms. Throughout her tenure, she continued to scrunch her nose and treat public education as an unpleasant smell in the room.

This weekend, opponents of her policies were quick to note that Joe Biden’s victory signals an end to what they consider DeVos’ reign of terror.

Biden’s assurance to educators that his wife, longtime teacher Jill Biden, would have their back was met with relief, including some of the comic variety.

A former high school teacher, Jill Biden earned a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware in 2007. She teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College, a job she held while her husband served as vice president. Jill Biden says she intends to continue teaching while First Lady.

During his speech Saturday night, Biden emphasized his wife’s background as a teacher, saying, “For American educators, it’s a great day for y’all. You’re going to have one of your own in the White House." Biden has promised an educator with classroom experience will lead his U.S. Department of Education.

Early on, detractors likened DeVos to the evil Dolores Jane Umbridge of the Harry Potter book series. Umbridge is an officious British Ministry of Magic bureaucrat regarded by students at Hogwarts as cruel and condescending. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling once wrote that Umbridge was “one of the characters for whom I feel the purest dislike."

So, it was not surprising to see Umbridge referenced in social media posts cheering DeVos' departure.