Gage Skidmore / Flickr Betsy DeVos...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has just discovered yet another great way to completely mess up the educational experience in our schools. She has apparently decided that what is really needed to stop school shootings is to go back to the good ol’ days before President Obama and start mistreating and over-disciplining minority students all over again. Yes, I’m serious.

The decision culminates a nearly yearlong effort begun by the Trump administration after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The deaths of 17 students and staff members on Feb. 14 prompted lawmakers in both parties to demand tougher gun laws, but after a brief flirtation with gun control, President Trump abandoned that focus and instead empowered a school safety commission, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Almost immediately, the commission turned away from guns and instead scrutinized the Obama administration’s school discipline policies, though none of the most high-profile school shootings were perpetrated by black students. The commission’s focus was part of a broader effort to reject the previous administration’s race-conscious education efforts, which have included siding with Asian students suing Harvard to end affirmative action and delaying an Obama-era rule to prevent disproportionate numbers of minority children from being funneled into special education classes.

The commission’s report argues in favor of narrowing a legal avenue for the federal government to combat discrimination in the nation’s schools by rejecting “disparate impact theory,” which holds that seemingly neutral policies can harm certain racial groups. That was the underpinning for the Obama administration’s disciplinary policies.

If you’re confused about how this is supposed to work on the problem of school shootings, I have to admit, so am I.

The policy established under Obama sought to address the facts that black students were reportedly three times more likely to be suspended or expelled, and that Latino students made up more than half of all school arrests and referrals.

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the White House released a new capstone report with updates about projects launched and local progress made in response to the Administration’s Rethink Discipline efforts. Rethink Discipline was launched as part of President Barack Obama’s My Brothers’ Keeper initiative and aims to support all students and promote a welcome and safe climate in schools. The full report is available HERE.

The application of exclusionary discipline practices is especially significant for students of color and students with disabilities, who, in general, are disciplined more often than their classmates.  As stated in the Department of Education’s First Look brief about 2013-14 CRDC data, in preschool, black children are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white children. In K-12, black students are 3.8 times more likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions compared to white students. Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as students without disabilities

Addressing these disparities and rethinking discipline have remained top priorities of the Administration, which has focused attention on the importance of school disciplinary approaches that foster safe, supportive, and productive learning environments in which students can thrive.

So the goal would be to have discipline applied consistently, based on the actions of the student and not on an overreaction that seemed to be correlated to the student’s ethnicity or disability. This policy was based on a non-partisan study generated by the GAO.

Lead researcher Jacqueline Nowicki told NPR that disparities in discipline were consistent “regardless of the type of disciplinary action, regardless of the level of school poverty, and regardless of the type of public school attended.”

Disparities in discipline in public schools.[…]

Removing an unruly child from the classroom seems like an easy fix; however, repeatedly removing a child from his learning environment can have adverse effects on his education and, in some cases, can reward bad behavior for a child who wishes to get out of class. Officials in two of the school districts told the researchers they recognized the importance of using alternative methods to removing children from their learning environment. All five districts described changing their approach to discipline, with some alternatives including restorative justice practices and social-emotional learning.

Students with learning disabilities or histories of poverty, neglect, or abuse are particularly vulnerable to removal-style discipline that leads to the “school to prison pipeline,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union, a national trend wherein “children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” Consistent with data from the GAO study, it seems that some public schools are attempting to move away from push-out trends that disproportionately affect vulnerable students.

Trump supporters took this information and the Obama administration’s approach and turned them upside down, proclaiming that, rather than attempting to prevent discrimination, the policy instead provided “special treatment” for minority students.

That’s an argument we’ve heard before: for example, when George W. Bush opposed same-sex marriage and claimed that it was a “special right” for gay people instead of the extension of a basic civil right to all citizens.

The need for the GAO study and Obama policy may have been most recently highlighted by the decision by a white wrestling referee to require 16-year-old high school wrestler Andrew Johnson to either forfeit a match or have his dreadlocks cut off on the spot, even though his hair length was within existing guidelines, which required that it be above the ears and collar, and it had not been a problem during previous matches.

“The scholastic wrestling rules clearly state that referees are to inspect wrestlers’ appearance and determine any rules violations prior to the start of the meet, typically during weigh-ins,” Dominic Speziali, a lawyer representing Johnson and his parents, said in a statement.

“The referee here was late to the meet and missed weigh-ins. When he did evaluate Andrew, he failed to raise any issues with the length of his hair or the need to wear a head covering,” Speziali said.

Johnson’s hair had not presented an issue at a wrestling tournament the week prior, which his coaches told Maloney at the time, Speziali said.

This “special treatment” of a student is the kind that demonstrates the need for the Obama-era policy.

Other incidents include the homemade clock created by a student who happened to be Muslim that was mistaken for a “hoax bomb.”

(CNN) When Ahmed Mohamed went to his high school in Irving, Texas, Monday, he was so excited. A teenager with dreams of becoming an engineer, he wanted to show his teacher the digital clock he’d made from a pencil case.

The 14-year-old’s day ended not with praise, but punishment, after the school called police and he was arrested.
“I built a clock to impress my teacher but when I showed it to her, she thought it was a threat to her,” Ahmed told reporters Wednesday. “It was really sad that she took the wrong impression of it.”
Irving Police spokesman Officer James McLellan told the station, “We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was and he would simply only tell us that it was a clock.”
The teenager did that because, well, it was a clock, he said.

And then there was the incident with Officer Slam.

State Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) told WLTX-TV the 16-year-old girl suffered arm, neck and back injuries when Fields grabbed her by the throat and threw her to the ground after the teen refused to hand over her cell phone to a teacher.

“He weighs about 300 pounds,” Rutherford said. “She is a student who is 16 years old, who now has a cast on her arm, a band aid on her neck, and neck and back problems. There’s something wrong here.”

The Obama administration’s policy was an attempt to curb this type of thing, but Betsy DeVos apparently thinks we need more of it in order prevent school shootings, even though black and minority students are almost never involved in school shootings. The misguided policy change is somewhat similar to DeVos’ decision to roll back oversight on for-profit colleges, even when they have committed blatant fraud (for instance, Trump’s own fake “Trump University”).

And then there’s her policy to change the handling of campus sexual assault so that the accuser can be directly challenged—and potentially further abused—by the attacker.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a controversial proposal Friday to overhaul how schools across the country address sexual misconduct complaints, narrowing the definition of what sexual harassment is on campus and reinforcing “due process” rights for students accused.

The rule creates three categories for harassment, including “Unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school’s education program or activity;” “quid pro quo harassment,” like a school employee “conditioning an educational benefit” on a person’s sexual conduct; and sexual assault.

Under Obama-era guidelines, sexual harassment was defined more loosely as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”  

Each of these policy changes on its own is problematic; taken together, they represent a trend. At the most obvious level, they can clearly put minority, disabled, LGBTQ, and female students at a higher risk of being overdisciplined; of being price-gouged and ripped off by diploma mills; and of being physically and sexually assaulted by fellow students and staff on campuses.

And although each policies covers a different issue, there seems to be an underlying theme and mindset here: a general pushback against civil rights and #MeToo as too mean to white male dominance. Each raises the bar to make it more difficult to question and challenge white power and patriarchy.

DeVos herself has already been called out as a white supremacist following some ignorant comments she made about historically black colleges and universities.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos faced an angry protest as she addressed students at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government on Thursday night.

Reuters reported that more than a dozen protesters waved banners reading “White Supremacist,” “Protect Survivors,” and “Our Students Are Not 4 Sale” during her “Conversation on Empowering Parents” forum alongside Harvard professors Archon Fung and Paul Peterson. Many other students reportedly stood with fists raised during her presentation, while other protesters cheered and chanted outside the event space.
Attendees began chanting “that’s what white supremacy looks like” as DeVos—who has previously had to walk back tone-deaf comments about historically black colleges, among other things—left the stage.
Of course, DeVos has her supporters, who argue that she’s not a white supremacist because she’s spent her own money on black children.  Sorta.
White Supremacists don’t spend their own money to better educate Black children. White Supremacists don’t work to ensure that Black parents have options when it comes to which school their child attends. And White supremacists don’t take a daily beating in the press, get shouted down at every event, and find themselves the victim of daily death threats only to return to work the next day so that Black children–and all children—are afforded more and better opportunities to be well educated, prepared for college and work, and set up for a rich and full life.
And that would seem to exonerate her, except that the results of her policies on minority schools in Michigan are decidedly mixed.

In Detroit, parents of school-age children have plenty of choices, thanks to the nation’s largest urban network of charter schools.

What remains in short supply is quality.

In Brightmoor, the only high school left is Detroit Community Schools, a charter boasting more than a decade of abysmal test scores and, until recently, a superintendent who earned $130,000 a year despite a dearth of educational experience or credentials.

On the west side, another charter school, Hope Academy, has been serving the community around Grand River and Livernois for 20 years. Its test scores have been among the lowest in the state throughout those two decades; in 2013 the school ranked in the first percentile, the absolute bottom for academic performance. Two years later, its charter was renewed.

This deeply dysfunctional educational landscape — where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and “choice” means the opposite for tens of thousands of children — is no accident. It was created by an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades, with little regard for the outcome.

And at the center of that lobby is Betsy DeVos, the west Michigan advocate whose family has contributed millions of dollars to the cause of school choice and unregulated charter expansion throughout Michigan.

I wonder if looking at it in isolation may be causing us to miss the bigger picture of the so-called “school choice” movement championed by DeVos, namely the far-right-of-center evangelical views she and her family share.

To be certain DeVos comes to her world view honestly. Betsy’s husband, Dick DeVos, for instance, has pushed for creationism to be taught in schools. Her late father, Edgar Prince, helped start the fundamentalist Family Research Council, a known anti-LGBT, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, hate group. And her mother Elsa Prince, also an extreme fundamentalist, was once called a “portrait of Christian hate” by the Daily Kos. This is not to say that DeVos should be judged on the character of her relatives. After all, we don’t critique Jimmy Carter for his brother’s controversial behaviors.

The DeVos family’s radicalism goes back more than a century. DeVos’s father, Edgar Prince, made his fortune in manufacturing and soon began using his profits to fund far-right organizations. Most notably, Edgar Prince was a founder of the Family Research Council, which argues that homosexuality is a type of perversion. In 1999, an FRC staffer wrote, “Gaining access to children has been a long-term goal of the homosexual movement.” The comment helped put the group on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group watch list.

Betsy’s mother, Elsa Prince, has shown the same dedication to far-right extremism. She has been one of the biggest contributors to campaigns to ban same-sex marriage in the country, working against the civil rights issue in California and Michigan.

[…]

The family’s extremism doesn’t stop there. Erik Prince, Betsy DeVos’s brother, is also deeply steeped in far-right militancy. As the founder of Blackwater USA, now Academi, a private military company, Prince headed the organization when it infamously massacred 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007. (In [an] attempt to escape blame and litigation, Prince fled the USA and resettled in Abu Dhabi.)

DeVos may often be seen as simply a billionaire who has been able to buy her way into affecting public policy without having any actual experience or track record to stand on, but in fact, it may be far worse than that. She is far more likely an ideological zealot on a crusade to push back hard on the social and civil rights advances of the last 50 years, a push to establish a sociocultural normative standard that favors white people, Christian people, and males over all others. Mother Jones investigated Betsy DeVos and her efforts to bring “God’s Kingdom” into our schools.

For deeply devout people like Lanting and DeVos, education plays a key role in that mission. Since her nomination, DeVos hasn’t had much to say about her faith—or whether she plans to defend the separation of church and state in public schools. (DeVos declined Mother Jones‘ request for an interview, but a Trump transition team spokeswoman replied in an email, “Mrs. DeVos believes in the legal doctrine of the separation of church and state.”) However, in a 2001 interview for The Gathering, a group focused on advancing Christian faith through philanthropy, she and her husband offered a rare public glimpse of their views. Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”

It’s not that surprising that as movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MarchForOurLives, and #MeToo have grown in influence, you would have a whitelash (as coined by Van Jones) pushing back against them in ways large and small. It’s not that surprising that many of the violent white supremacist groups we’ve seen, including Identity Evropa and Gavin McInnes’ Proud Boys, seem to be largely populated by men’s rights enthusiasts who are also apparently incels, with a high percentage of the latter feeling isolated, estranged, under attack, and having a tendency to lash out violently. 

Twenty-five-year-old Alek Minassian is of Armenian descent living in Toronto.  Facebook claims he made posts associating himself with the “Incel Rebellion” before he rented a truck and used it to kill ten people in Toronto on Monday.  He surrendered to authorities and faces 10 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.

Chris Harper-Mercer was biracial (his mom is African-American) and a self-professed Incel growing up in rural Oregon.  In 2015, the 26-year-old shot and killed nine people at his community college before killing himself.

Elliot Rodger was half Taiwanese (mother is from Taiwan) and was referenced in Minassian’s FB post.  The 22-year-old Rodger (son of the Hunger Games movie producer Peter Rodger) became notorious due to a YouTube video titled, “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution” where he outlined his intent to kill men and women due to his sexual frustration.  He also wrote a 150 page manifesto linking himself to the Incel movement before he killed six people near UC Santa Barbara and then taking his own life.

And 25-year-old Marc Lepin, the killer in the 1989 École Polytechnique Massacre in Montreal was the child of an Algerian immigrant father.  Lepin espoused anti-feminist rhetoric and physically separated men from women before killing fourteen women.  He left a suicide note blaming feminists for ruining his life (This occurred before the term Incel was coined in 1993).

It just may be that the deeper DeVos agenda is not simply pro-white or pro-male, but actually pro-incel. Just as many evangelicals who profess to be pro-life are also against birth control, which can be used to prevent an unwanted pregnancy and therefore also abortion, there are many who wrongly fight against comprehensive sex education, leaving young people misinformed and actually producing more unplanned pregnancies due to abstinence-only policies. It’s understandable that this type of movement would make common cause with those who are anti-LGBT and against the empowerment of women, and would bolster the rationalization of women-hating incels.

When you look at all these efforts, it begins to make sense that rather than look at the impact of the NRA and the proliferation of guns on school shootings, DeVos instead would like to turn our schools into impenetrable fortresses, with armed teachers and staff, less oversight of those teachers and staff, weakened rules on sexual assault and on the prevention of over-disciplining of vulnerable minority students.

All of these efforts help only one group, to the detriment of literally everyone else.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Is sickening voters put brainchild in office so he can appoint idiots like her to make such a mess! Stupid Americans deserve what they get

  2. She is another one like Trump. Get her out of office. I am so sick of the the republican/Trump Party. Dems let all get together and abolish this party from the pace of the earth. They are all no good. They are not for the people only very self-serving.

  3. You don’t need education or experience for a job in the impostor president’s administration. The positions are handed out if their bribes, I mean (campaign contributions) are generous enough. She wants public school education to pay for her Jesus Freak religious schools because she thinks that the problems America has would be cured by praying hard enough & turning kids into little right wing robots. Little white kids that is. She’s doing what she was hired to do. Destroy the Department of Education & turn the nation into religious schools.

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