U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is pushing to transform America’s government-education regime to more closely resemble the European (and Soviet) model — a glorified workforce-training program rather than a true education in the traditional American understanding of the term. Critics, however, warned that the workforce-training model popular in Europe and in the former Soviet Union misses the point of education and has no place in a free society.
Last month, as she pushes to merge her department with the Labor Department, DeVos made a trip to Europe, stopping in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, among other places. The two key takeaways from her trip, based on public statements, appear to be that education should be geared toward helping central planners decide what children will do in the future, and that government should hijack control of what remains of private education under the guise of “choice.”
In a press release after her trip, DeVos claimed Americans should emulate European education schemes because it was better for the economy. “There is much to learn from our European counterparts as they continue to advance education options centered on the needs of individual students and focused on their ability to succeed in the modern economy,” said DeVos, using nice rhetoric to conceal a dangerous agenda.
As “proof” of the need to emulate Europe, she cited results on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). What she did not mention is that PISA does not measure how well students do in math, reading, or even science. “In the latest iteration in 2015, questions covered collaborative problem solving, social skills, and even psychological well-being,” explained EdSurge. In other words, the international test measures how well students conform to the demands of central planners — not how well-educated they are in the traditional sense.
In one social media post, the Education Department touted a scheme by the Sovietesque-sounding U.K. “Minister of State for Skills” (seriously) on how to train students to have skills that the government believes the economy and big corporations will need in the future. The federal education bureaucracy has also tweeted quotes by known communists under DeVos’ leadership for reasons that were not made clear. What has been missing, though, is an understanding of the real reason for education.
Beyond re-structuring education to help meet the demands of central planners in terms of future workers, DeVos also came away touting federally backed so-called “school choice.” She touted various programs in the United Kingdom and Holland that use tax money for “private” schools as examples of success. What she did not mention is that those government-funded “private” schools must obey government demands on curriculum and pedagogy, thereby eliminating any real choice.
Even more troubling, perhaps, was the Education Department’s promotion of so-called “Social and Emotional Learning,” or SEL, during DeVos’ trip. This is essentially an effort to manipulate and mold students’ feelings, attitudes, mindsets, values, and more. This SEL agenda was relentlessly pursued under the Obama administration. And unfortunately — as with Common Core — the schemes continue today under new leadership.
While arguments for and against workforce-training versus education can be interesting, the broader point that must be made is that the U.S. Department of Education has no constitutional authority to exist — much less decide what sort of education American children will receive. Trump should work to abolish the department as proposed on the campaign trail, and let American communities decide how to educate children as the Constitution requires.