80-Year-Old Report Predicts DeVos’s Attitude on Public Education

The public education debate is nothing new, as Betsy DeVos's contentious nomination process reveals.

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The vote for Betsy DeVos’s Secretary of Education nomination is expected to occur next week, and a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence is likely to confirm the cabinet appointment.

DeVos has faced criticism over her performance at her confirmation hearing as well as her history of large donations to the Republican Party. Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski said they would vote against Devos’s confirmation, citing her preoccupation with school vouchers and lack of experience in public education. Devos’s approach to education reform seems, to many, to be a diversion of public funds to religious schools and charter schools.

The United States has argued about public education reform for decades.  In the 1937 article “Why Send Them to School?” from the Post (read the full article below), University of Chicago president Robert M. Hutchins identified many pitfalls and successes of public education.

Hutchins called for federal support of public education, and he even argued a rigorous appointment process for the then-nonexistent Secretary of Education Cabinet position:

“If we are going to have a program of Federal support, we shall want it to be directed intelligently. The only way we can insure this kind of direction is to set up a department of the National Government, headed by a Secretary of Education in the Cabinet. Vigilant taxpayers and vigilant members of the affected profession would see to it, as they have in the erection of other Federal agencies, that the personnel of this new department was recruited not from the roll of party workers but from experts in the field.”

Hutchins made his case for higher wages for teachers as well as more freedom in the classroom, warning against “legislative ‘investigations’” that amounted to “loyalty oaths” paving the way towards propaganda: “We shall have depressions in the future, and the parents and taxpayers of America will do well, while everything is still rosy, to protect the freedom to teach against the attacks that will occur again.” Anyone familiar with the laments of many public educators today will recognize Hutchins’s call for empowerment of teachers, politically and financially, from almost 80 years ago.

In his story Hutchins expresses the essence and purpose of education in a manner that causes one to wonder whether these ideas have been lost in today’s public education debate. He notes the school’s function is neither to create adults who believe “everything they read in the newspapers” nor any that “accept ours as the best of all possible worlds.”

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