A Betsy DeVos speech at Harvard University drew hundreds of protesters, including some carrying signs claiming that she was a “white supremacist.”
According to an article in the school’s official newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, “hundreds of demonstrators” gathered outside to protest Thursday’s speech, and there were additional students standing indoors showing “silent disapproval . . . , many of them hoisting banners made from bedsheets.”
The Crimson reports that DeVos faced “repeated interruptions,” with hundreds of students chanting “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white!” Some unfurled banners, including one that stated “WHITE SUPREMACIST.”
All of this is so insane that I don’t even know where to start. First of all, you may disagree with Betsy DeVos’s views on education policy, but that doesn’t make her a “white supremacist.” What’s more, if ending white supremacy is something that you care about (and you should), then please be aware that you’re certainly not doing your cause any favors by throwing that term around so loosely. There are, after all, actual, real-life white supremacists out there — as in, people who openly, shamelessly espouse the belief that white people are superior to those of other races — and one of them just murdered an innocent person in a terror attack in Charlottesville. Regardless of your intentions, you’re diminishing the seriousness of the issue when you run around using “WHITE SUPREMACIST” to describe anyone who happens to believe in the power of private solutions and individual liberty to solve problems. You’re also shutting down conversations about the help that those solutions can provide.
I’d certainly agree that education is a right — and by that, I mean that everyone has the right to learn. No one should ever be banned from consuming information, and everyone deserves the opportunity to do so. Here’s the thing, though: You can believe in the importance of education and that the current government system is not the best approach; it’s idiotic how often the critics seems to miss this simple fact.
It’s not, after all, as if we lack evidence to suggest that the current system isn’t working — and that some of DeVos’s ideas might be better options. For example, DeVos has been a big advocate of school choice and charter schools, and a recent study by the Florida Department of Education found not only that the state’s charter-school students scored better on tests than their peers at public schools overall but also that this was especially true for minority students. And it’s not just Florida: As Thomas Sowell pointed out in a column at National Review last year, there are whole chains of charter schools (namely, schools in the the Knowledge Is Power Program and in the Success Academy) in which black and Hispanic students score far above the national average on tests. Now, to be fair, not all charter schools have had these kinds of results, but we do have data that show us what factors make the difference. For example: As Mene Ukueberuwa noted at NRO in September, states such as Arizona and Florida that have been able to reduce the racial achievement gap using their charter schools also tend to be states that don’t hesitate to close schools that aren’t performing well.
In other words, there is a lot of evidence suggesting that Betsy DeVos’s proposed education reforms could actually help black and Hispanic students do better in school than our current system allows. Not everyone agrees, and it’s fine to protest if you don’t. But placing DeVos in the same category as the very real, very evil racists who marched in Charlottesville — and shouting her down because you have a difference of opinion on how to help minority students, not a difference of opinion on whether they should be helped — is not just stupid, it’s actually disgusting.