Tuesday, February 07, 2017
Thomas Sowell has come out of retirement to express his
support for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Of all Trump's
cabinet picks so far, she has faced the fiercest opposition in the
Senate, where there is a 50-50
stalemate. Calling the DeVos nomination both a
once-in-a-generation opportunity for educational reform and a major
threat to teachers' unions, Sowell elaborates:
[DeVos] has, for more than 20 years, been promoting programs, laws and policies that enable parents to choose which schools their children will attend -- whether these are charter schools, voucher schools or parochial schools.DeVos might be a dream candidate for this post, if (a) she were a principled advocate of laissez-faire, or (b) she were nominated by such a president, who would make sure her reforms would most likely lead to the abolishment of government schools. Neither is the case and, on top of that, DeVos, who explicitly regards her activism as as a means to "advance God's Kingdom," wants religious schools to be eligible for vouchers.
Some of these charter schools -- especially those in the chain of the Success Academy schools and the chain of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools -- operate in low-income, minority neighborhoods in the inner-cities, and turn out graduates who can match the educational performances of students in affluent suburbs. What is even more remarkable, these charter schools are often housed in the very same buildings, in the very same ghettoes, where students in the regular public schools fail to learn even the basics in English or math.
You and I may think this is great. But, to the teachers' unions, such charter schools are a major threat to their members' jobs -- and ultimately to the unions' power or existence.
If parents have a choice of where to send their children, many of those parents are not likely to send them to failing public schools, when there are alternative schools available that equip those youngsters with an education that can open the way to a far better future for them. [bold added]
Plainly, on the grounds of separation of religion and state, these schools shouldn't be eligible, and including them in a voucher program (especially outside the explicit context of privatizing education) reinforces the dangerous precedent of government funding of religious activity set by Bush-Obama's "faith-based initiatives." That said, the mind-killing death grip the unions have on (what should be) education means, in light of Sowell's arguments (and the public not being ready for privatization), that we can't necessarily rule her out on that basis. Many parochial schools produce children better able to think than do the public schools. (And many parents would send their children to them, anyway. Note that this is not the same thing as the government sending their kids to them at the expense of others. The fact that people can misuse their freedom does not in any way justify the government funding or preventing such choices.) I am inclined to favor her nomination with eyes open as a means of reining back the power of the teachers' unions and freeing some young minds in the process.
This is not a firm opinion, but DeVos may well be the best selection we can hope for in some time. Regardless, religious conservatives should not be confused with capitalists, and they have repeatedly shown themselves to be just as eager to dine at the trough of government loot as their fellow altruist-collectivists on the left. I would be pleasantly surprised to see her appointment bring us breathing room, but I don't expect much more. And it could well backfire.