Former US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released a new book today called Hostages No More: The Fight for Education Freedom and the Future of the American Child. I’ve read the book and I like it.
Hostages No More flows well and touches on most of the key topics readers will be interested in, including how growing up in small-town Michigan helped form Betsy, how her experiences trying to help low-income families and their children break the cycle of generational poverty led her into politics and the struggle to improve public education, her nomination to be US Secretary of Education and one of the most contentious cabinet nomination processes in our nation’s history, the issues and threats she faced as Secretary of Education, the innovative education programs she saw as Secretary, and her decision to resign after the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capital.
Betsy is honest and open in this new book, but she doesn’t try to get even with her critics. Nor does she offer much insight into her relationship with President Donald Trump. Her compassion, faith, and small-town values come through as does her toughness and intense drive to push public education to better serve children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
As always, her focus is on the kids.
The book’s primary message is that education freedom is the key to improving public education. By education freedom she means empowering all families, not just the wealthy, to match their children with the education programs that best meet their needs.
Betsy is agnostic about the education choices families make for their children. But her core belief is that all families and educators need access to as many educational options as possible. A public education capable of providing every child with an effective and efficient customized education is her goal.
Betsy’s other key assertions in the book include that social justice is best achieved through education freedom, education freedom benefits educators as well as students and families, education savings accounts (ESAs) are the next phase in the movement toward more freedom in public education, and teacher unions should be called school unions since unions such as the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) put the needs of school systems above the needs of students and teachers.
My favorite Betsy DeVos story is not in the book.
I was at Harvard University for a meeting. Betsy was speaking on campus that night, so I went to her talk. The primary message of the large group of protestors outside the auditorium and the smaller group inside was that Betsy was an elitist. The irony of Harvard students protesting a speaker for being an elitist seemed lost on the students.
In her talk, Betsy subtly addressed this point by stating that she wanted all students to have the same type of educational opportunities that Harvard students have. But the students weren’t buying it. After her talk ended, the students resumed chanting about what an evil elitist Betsy was – a testament to how tribalism and group think often diminish rationality.
I spoke with Betsy after her talk. She was undisturbed by the bizarreness of being called an elitist by the nation’s most elite students attending the nation’s most elite university. More recently, I asked Betsy during a reimaginED podcast interview how she is able to stay so calm in the face of relentless and often disingenuous verbal assaults.
Her response: faith and empathy.
Betsy said she tries to empathize with her attackers, understand their concerns, and seek common ground. She acknowledged it seldom works, but it’s how she shows respect for herself and others.
A good lesson for all of us.