Betsy DeVos would make a really good beauty queen.
She’s gracious, demure, photogenic and surrounded by a team of handlers to whisk her away from anything unpleasant.
Like the swarm of sign-carrying protesters who gathered across the street from Kansas City Academy, the private school the controversial U.S. Secretary of Education visited Friday. If DeVos caught a glimpse of the protesters, it was fleeting. And they definitely weren’t heard.
The students of the school fared better, which is infinitely more appropriate.
KC Academy’s defining feature is putting students on equal footing with faculty members who encourage self-expression and critical thinking. The Social Justice Senior Seminar (what other local school would fathom such a group?) decided to create an all-school booklet to give to DeVos.
It was as if the students sensed that the 90 minutes DeVos spent in their space would be staged engagement, with little time for the deep dialogue they value most.
Rest assured, the same points the protesters were trying to make outside were echoed by the students, faculty and alumni who contributed to the booklet titled “Kansas City Academy Speaks.”
“Why can’t we all just use one bathroom?” one student’s entry asked, a nod to the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the Obama administration’s guidance on transgender students.
Friday, with numerous guests visiting the school building for the first time, two new hand-drawn signs appeared on the restroom doors, denoting that one bathroom contained stalls and urinals and the other, just stalls.
No more guidance needed to be offered.
“The public school system, in my eyes, stands to benefit the most from teaching methods like the ones at KCA,” wrote a student in a letter to DeVos that explained how being freed from a rigid curriculum allowed for more effective learning.
Many students emphasized the importance of the arts, urging DeVos to abandon the conservative push to defund such programs.
“Arts education has inarguably saved me,” wrote one student who detailed her struggles with mental health. “Last, improvements in the training of art teachers in our schools, especially public schools, is crucial as they have fewer resources to receive productive arts education in the current political and socio-cultural climate.”
Immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter and respect for LGBT people were repeated themes. “You’re not being ‘oppressed’ when another group gains rights that you’ve always had,” noted one student.
Another created a detailed flow chart of two topics: sexual assault on college campuses and education and vouchers.
Boom. DeVos’ views on both issues have spurred controversy. She rescinded the Obama administration’s guidance for higher education on sexual assault allegations, falsely claiming that it offered little protection for the accused.
And school choice, with an emphasis on vouchers and charter schools, is her passion. DeVos often glosses over fears that her approach could undermine public schools.
Friday was no different.
DeVos talked about moving government to a model that supports school choice: “It’s my feeling that the federal government has been too involved in K-12 education.”
What DeVos received in the booklet is the product of an education that allows students to learn through individualized instruction, utilizing their unique talents and learning styles.
She might not like many of the views presented, as they run counter to much of what she, the Trump administration and conservatives have supported.
But if she devotes the time, she’ll gain useful insights into why so many people passionately disagree with her.