President Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees have undoubtedly faced immense criticism. However, no appointee has faced more backlash than newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. In fact, DeVos’ nomination was only confirmed after Vice President Mike Pence was called onto the Senate floor as a tiebreaker, which has never happened before. While many in Trump’s innercircle have called this criticism unwarranted, DeVos’ recent comment on historically black colleges and universities proves she is terrifyingly uneducated about public education.
HBCUs were established prior to 1964 — when black Americans were not permitted to attend regular colleges and universities. While HBCUs allowed students of all races to attend, they ensured that black Americans in mostly former Confederate states could pursue higher education. Today, 100 HBCUs still exist.
Recently, Devos referred to HBCUs as the “real pioneers” of school choice. The term school choice — which is the center of DeVos’ education platform — refers to the idea that if public schools are privatized, it will create competition through the free market, supposedly leading to superior educations and lower tuition rates. In implying that HBCUs pioneered this idea, DeVos insulted the many black Americans who historically could not attend the vast majority of colleges and universities. What is so ironic about DeVos’ example is that it actually disproves the broader point she is trying to make about public colleges and universities. DeVos has been pushing the idea of privatizing public education in the form of for-profit charter schools. She has called public education “a closed system, a closed industry, a closed market. It’s a monopoly, a dead end.”
While charter schools have gained popularity in recent years, issues such as rampant corruption and fraud, lack of transparency and putting profit ahead of education have plagued the industry. DeVos tried to use HBCUs as an example of free market improving education, when in fact they are indicative of the free market’s inherent limitations. DeVos lauds the initiative of HBCUs instead of acknowledging that the federal government should not have allowed states to uphold school segregation in the first place. While the free market is perhaps a useful system in determining the value of shoe stores, the government needs to have a role in ensuring that our school system is both effective and egalitarian.
While NYU is a private institution, DeVos’ beliefs will affect the education system as a whole — including the federal financial aid that many NYU students rely on. Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to represent reason and truth by speaking out against people like DeVos.
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