Prior to her elevation as Secretary of Education under President Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos had been a central figure with education in her home state of Michigan. Her controversial appointment was criticized by many across the country, who simply portrayed her as a wealthy woman with scant awareness of the issues facing public education.
Even after that appointment, DeVos’ confirmation process saw her deal with a bruising battle that saw her confirmed by a single vote. An purported joking reference during those hearings about administrators using guns in schools to protect against grizzly bears left her open to ridicule and charges that her intellect was suspect.
The belief that the 58-year-old DeVos was out of touch also focused on the fact that she and her husband sent their children to private schools and that she had long championed charter schools. In the latter case, her efforts in the beleaguered city of Detroit have thus far met with limited results. However, those supporting DeVos have presented her as an individual who ignores critics in an effort to focus on her given agenda.
Despite DeVos’ background as a strong advocate for Christian-based schools, there’s also been an effort to present a different image. Working with rapper Pit Bull, who’s opened up a number of charter schools in his native Miami, DeVos has sought to show that her privileged background doesn’t preclude her from attempting interactions with minority communities.
In addition, she had reportedly battled Trump in changing a policy that removed policy that had helped to support transgender students and bathroom options. Her critics indicated that her willingness to stand alongside the President when announcing the change and her public comments about it that involved criticism of the Obama administration undercut such support.
What might surprise those critics is that DeVos has made an effort to reach across the political aisle with respect to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA). In the latter case, the effort was fruitless, while Randi Weingarten of the AFT spoke with her by phone and sought to find common ground.
Still, Weingarten warned about the need for DeVos’ critics to avoid the trap of taking her lightly. The two have previously battled in Michigan over her efforts there and figure to engage in many similar conflicts over the next three years as polar opposites try and move the cause of education forward.
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