Have you ever asked yourself, How humble can an education secretary be?
No, of course not. The fact is, people who are appointed to the post at the US Department of Education and in the president’s cabinet don’t enter the role as a humble civil servant; they often depart after having been humbled by the fact that local school boards often have more to say about what schools do than they do.
Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of humble civil servants at the US Department of Education, who work long hours to administer federal programs that try to give all students an equal opportunity to get an education that will help them reach their individual potentials.
During her tenure, Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s education secretary, showed no interest in those civil servant types. Indeed, she often blamed them when she couldn’t get her way. She may have even violated federal law in imposing new work rules on those civil servants and denying them certain organizing protections in July 2018, according to mediators for the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
Still, even given a history of basically telling those civil servants they were wrong in how they did their job, she told them last week in a self-congratulatory speech that they should continue to “resist” efforts to undo what she has accomplished.
She touted, among other things, her changing of the Title IX rules on sexual assault. In her view, the changes she brought about, which have withstood legal challenges, strengthen protections for survivors by holding schools accountable, ensuring survivors aren’t brushed aside, and guaranteeing the accused aren’t presumed guilty.
President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign team has said he plans to reinstate the former Title IX protections, especially when it comes to protecting transgender students, although some of Ms DeVos’s changes might be worth looking at more carefully.
Later that year and into 2019, Ms DeVos also reduced many of the protections students were given in the previous administration against for-profit colleges—the ones that hit unemployed high school graduates with hard marketing campaigns, have rock-bottom graduation rates, and collect billions in student financial aid backed by the federal government.
Almost everything Ms DeVos did, in fact, has been to work against a better education for most students in the US. Things she could have done if she truly cared about students include:
- Reduce the digital divide for low-income and rural communities
- Provide more guidance for local school systems during crises
- Make it easier for all students to afford college if they want to go
- Get behind efforts or movements that seek to enforce civil rights
As a result of her track record, I feel it’s unlikely that the humble civil servants at the US Education Department see their work going forward as resistance. They are unlikely to see Ms DeVos’s efforts as setting an example in working for students, as she painted her tenure. More likely, she will be humbled by their calling of service to students in a way that brings equal opportunities to them all.