Jan Resseger points out that Betsy DeVos has spent her years in office berating public schools and claiming that children and families are on their own when it comes to school choice. She reminds us of a speech DeVos gave at an ALEC conference where she scoffed at the very idea of a school system. Each of us, in her view, rows our own boat, without regard for others. We are definitely not in this together as a society or a community.

In that same speech, DeVos endorsed the rugged individualism of Margaret Thatcher, DeVos spoke of Thatcher admiringly:

I was reminded of something another secretary of education once said. Her name was Margaret.  No, not Spellings — Thatcher.  Lady Thatcher regretted that too many seem to blame all their problems on “society.” But, “who is society,” she asked. “There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families” — families, she said — “and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”
The Iron Lady was right then and she’s still right today.

Every family on their own, no sense of mutuality, no connectedness with others. No society to protect the weak and to guarantee rights and responsibilities.

Then came the pandemic, and the world changed. Betsy is still singing the same tired song but the rest of the world recognizes that we are indeed knit together as communities and as a society, with shared responsibilities and needs. society does exist, and we all need it to function effectively. its terrifying to be on your own at a time of great peril that threatens us all, but is especially hard on the most vulnerable and weakest members of our society.

At such a time as this, we gain new appreciation for the ties that both bind and protect us. We turn to public institutions and count on them while the 1% lock themselves away in their cocoons.

She writes:

Despite public schools’ limitations in these virtual schooling months, and despite the inequity that surrounds and permeates them, however, the systemic presence of public schools—spread across small towns, city neighborhoods and suburbs; funded with state-constitution-driven formulas; organized with predictable curriculum; and staffed with millions of teachers educated about pedagogy, developmental psychology, educational philosophy, and their particular academic disciplines—leaves these institutions better prepared to serve students and to survive the current crisis with a strong foundation. Public schools are more stable than the many other institutions families need in these times when most parents have to hold jobs outside the home in order to survive.

Market-based solutions abandon children and families to fight for their survival on their own. The strong will manage. The weak will not. The inequities that already exist will deepen. DeVos’s do-it-yourself philosophy serves the haves and imperils everyone else. We must rebuild systems built around the needs of children and families and the principle of equal educational opportunity for all, accepting that society exists for our mutual protection.