Salon: Even Betsy DeVos — one of the longest-serving of Donald Trump’s revolving-door cabinet secretaries — finally reached what she called an “inflection point” with the former president’s open call for violent insurrection, resigning slightly before he left office. Amid the chaotic Trump administration, DeVos was in many ways the perfect choice for education secretary. She showed an astounding lack of knowledge about public education. She seemed at best uninterested and at worst downright hostile to America’s public schools.
DeVos’ tenure leaves us with unanswered questions: How is it possible that the leader of the Education Department could be so indifferent to public education itself? Why wouldn’t she learn the basics about her own department?
Scholars and pundits have offered answers. For one thing, DeVos did not care about her department because she thought her department should not exist. Like conservatives ever since the Reagan administration, DeVos yearned to dismantle her own department from within. DeVos, in this analysis, was never the guardian of public education but rather the “wolf at the schoolhouse door.”
That explanation is true and important. For decades, conservative leaders have threatened to eliminate the Education Department entirely. Even when Rick Perry could not remember all three of the federal departments he planned to eliminate back in 2011, he remembered that one of them was Education.
But that explanation can only get us so far. There is another reason why conservatives like DeVos often show a stunning ignorance about public schools. After all, even if she only planned to undermine public schools, it would make sense for her to learn a little something about them. Secretary DeVos never did.