Yorktown Sentry

Betsy DeVos and the Art of Empty Platitudes

The+current+United+States+Secretary+of+Education+Betsy+DeVos+has+found+herself+under+fire+for+a+variety+of+her+policies+and+career+goals.
The current United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has found herself under fire for a variety of her policies and career goals.

The current United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has found herself under fire for a variety of her policies and career goals.

Courtesy of CBS News

Courtesy of CBS News

The current United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has found herself under fire for a variety of her policies and career goals.

Nathan Dent, Sentry Staff Reporter

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






There are few names in politics as controversial as that of Betsy DeVos. The current United States Secretary of Education has found herself under fire for a variety of her policies and career goals, such as defunding the public school system (because supposedly taking funds away from public schools in order to subsidize private education will help public schools improve) or integrating Christianity into public schools. She is the least popular of all of Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees, with her September approval rating having been at only 28 percent. Widely criticized over what many believe to be a goal of privatizing the American public school system, DeVos is one of the least popular United States politicians in modern times.

Back in Jan of 2017, when DeVos’ confirmation hearing for the position of Secretary of Education was fast approaching, DeVos found herself needing to prove how she, someone with little experience in public education of any kind, was somehow fit to lead the department that administered and oversaw the entirety of education in the United States. At the time, DeVos’ odds of being confirmed did not seem to be in her favor. While the majority of Americans did not know much about her, she was not well-liked in political circles, especially so in the more left-leaning ones. During her confirmation, she was put under fire for multiple controversies, including her ownership of interests in the fraudulent Theranos Inc, her seemingly anti-public-school agenda, her failure to improve Michigan Public Schools while serving on the Michigan Board of Education and her unaccountable use of taxpayer dollars that were being poured into Michigan charter schools. However, after drawn-out filibustering by Democratic representatives, and a 50-50 tie in the Senate broken by Vice President Mike Pence, DeVos managed to secure the title of Secretary of Education. So, how did she do it? The answer: through flimsy assertions, manipulative pivots and empty platitudes.

During her confirmation hearing, there were several moments when DeVos seemed unable to come up with a meaningful response to questions asked by other members of the Senate. When asked by Senator Bernie Sanders about her family’s history of donations to the Republican Party, DeVos seemed to dodge giving an exact figure or even an estimate of the amount of money her family had donated, saying that she was “unfamiliar.” When Senator Sanders suggested a figure of $200 million, DeVos said that it was “possible,” but did not elaborate. When asked by Senator Maggie Hassan about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (otherwise known as IDEA), which requires all public schools to provide free and appropriate education to disabled students, DeVos demonstrated that she had little understanding of the act after saying that states should decide whether or not to enforce IDEA; IDEA is a federal law. When former Senator Al Franken asked for her stance on the age-old debate of whether students’ test scores should measure proficiency or growth, DeVos seemed to not understand the meaning of the question at all. At other points, DeVos essentially refused to answer questions posed by Senators Tim Kaine and Michael Bennett concerning issues such as school accountability for government subsidies and the failure of the Detroit school system by offering meaningless platitudes such as “I support accountability,” (she did not specify what kind of accountability, which is what Senator Kaine’s question was asking). DeVos’ question-dodging did not stop there, though. After being asked by Senator Elizabeth Warren about her strategy for preventing waste, fraud or abuse from private universities (e.g. Trump University), DeVos claimed that she would review gainful employment policies, but made no promise or mention of ever actually enforcing them. Perhaps the most iconic moment of the entire confirmation, however, came when DeVos famously defended putting guns in schools by citing a need to protect students from grizzly bears.

One thing to keep in mind when reviewing DeVos’ bizarre answers to questions posed by members of the Senate, however, is that they are not answers:; they are quasi-answers. Especially in the case of her confirmation, Devos has demonstrated a talent for dodging questions while making it seem as though she has answered them. She aptly inserts a meaningless platitude or redirects the question, sometimes finding ways to excuse herself from accountability, when in fact, she simply does not know what she is talking about. While the ridiculous and incoherent nature of some of the things she has said seems blatantly obvious when presented in a medium such as this, the fact of the matter is that DeVos is actually quite skilled at masking meaningless platitudes or flimsy statements as meaningful political insight.

This habit of adept question-dodging was highlighted once again on March 11, when DeVos gave a rare and unlikely interview for the popular CBS news show 60 Minutes. In this interview, DeVos seems to prove that she has effectively learned nothing during her first year in office, and once again opts to evade questions rather than to actually answer them with meaningful responses. When challenged by her interviewer, Leslie Stahl, on a previous assertion that the number of false rape accusations on campuses was equal to the number of actual rapes, DeVos’ response was “one sexual assault is one too many, and one falsely accused individual is too many.” After Stahl followed up, recognizing the empty platitude which DeVos had utilized, once again asking if the numbers are actually the same, DeVos finally admitted that she did not actually know, following up by saying she is “committed to a process that is fair to everyone involved.” When asked for her stance on putting guns in classrooms, DeVos opted to once again refuse to take an actual stance, making her classic move of holding somebody else accountable for the decision by saying that it “should be an option for states and communities to consider.” Possibly the most underwhelming moment of the entire interview came when DeVos was asked about her stance on federal investments schools, as Devos initially said that there had been “zero results,” and then, instead of giving an actual answer, later on attempted to justify her argument, as well as her assertion that defunding public schools will help them improve, by simply describing what a school was; saying “I hesitate to talk about all schools, because schools are made up of individual students,” a point that was redundant as well as counter-intuitive, considering how DeVos’ job as the United States Secretary of Education is to speak generally about the United States’ schools.

The 60 Minutes interview is yet another example of how hasty DeVos is to resort to tactics that mislead the American public into believing that she fully comprehends what she is saying when, in fact, she clearly does not. It serves as a rude awakening, as there are times and places where there is no Tim Kaine or Leslie Stahl to call DeVos out when she dodges a question; times when the American public is therefore subject to disinformation and manipulation at the hands of a government official. The fact of the matter is that DeVos has employed (and will continue to employ) the same sort of tactics for evading important questions over and over again ever since she was thrust into a position of such overwhelming responsibility. DeVos neglects to take actual positions on many controversial topics, such as the current hot-button debate over guns being kept in classrooms, and she often states her position through flimsy statements that essentially hold no meaning. As was demonstrated in her 60 Minutes interview, DeVos will, in order to cover up a genuine lack of thought or knowledge of an issue, use empty platitudes that mean virtually nothing and cannot get her into hot water for making a claim that she cannot back up. This tactic is especially dangerous when employed by somebody such as DeVos, as she has a genuine aptitude for making these tired statements seem, at least in the moment, as though they have meaning.

The further question that all of this begs, however, is why DeVos needs to dodge questions in the first place. While tactics such as these made sense during her confirmation more than a year ago, after having served more than a year in office, one would expect DeVos to have gained more than a very basic understanding of the issues that she has the responsibility of dealing with. However, as her 60 Minutes interview was able to demonstrate, DeVos does not seem to have improved her understanding of critical issues during her first year as Secretary of Education. This is a troubling observation, as a key duty of the entire United States Department of Education is to constantly be gathering and report new information on the state of education and the issues which surround it. Logically speaking, it does not seem possible for a person who oversees this entire research process, and has the results of all of this research reported to her, to still be so utterly clueless. With this in mind, one of three things is most likely happening; the first (and most unlikely) being that the Department of Education as a whole is not doing its job, and regular, comprehensive research is not being done. The second possibility is that research is being done, but the means by which it is reported to DeVos are not suitable for her to be able to sort through and make sense of. Finally, the third possibility is that research is being done, and that the means by which research is communicated are adequate, but DeVos has adopted an attitude typical of the current administration, in which she ignores or does not take the time to read through and develop an understanding of what is being reported to her.  No matter what the scenario is in actuality, something in the Department of Education, whether it be DeVos or her staff, needs to change.

Betsy Devos is a master of illusion. Despite absurdly low approval ratings, she has still managed to convince 28% of the American public (including President Trump) that she is qualified for the position that she holds. It is alarming to watch the amount of ease with which she redirects questions and conversations away from pressing issues of which she has no knowledge, often without her audience being aware of any change in the subject of the conversation. Even audiences who lie outside of the 28% who approve of DeVos are likely fooled or coaxed into a false sense of assurance at the hands of her hollow statements. To spot DeVos’s question-dodging strategies takes practice and a critical ear, which effectively places the responsibility of sounding the alarm for her empty platitudes and meaningless statements almost entirely on journalists and politicians who are familiar with her rhetoric. This frequent question-dodging is becoming an unfortunately fast-growing trend in politics, with politicians across the political spectrum beginning to answer tough questions with meaningless platitudes in lieu of answers to sociopolitical issues. None of them, however, are as skilled in the trade of deception as Betsy DeVos. When second thought is given to much of what DeVos says under pressure, her evasion of making meaningful statements becomes obvious; but all too often, DeVos manages to talk without saying anything at all.

226 total views, 2 views today

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Right
Navigate Left
  • Betsy DeVos and the Art of Empty Platitudes

    Headlines

    What it Means to Find a Meaningful Internship

  • Betsy DeVos and the Art of Empty Platitudes

    Headlines

    Yorktown’s Retirees

  • Betsy DeVos and the Art of Empty Platitudes

    Headlines

    Loft’s Successful First Year

  • Betsy DeVos and the Art of Empty Platitudes

    Headlines

    Changing Voting Age to 16: Necessary Reform or Pubescent Folly?

  • Betsy DeVos and the Art of Empty Platitudes

    Headlines

    Capitals Playoff Spirit Around Yorktown

  • Betsy DeVos and the Art of Empty Platitudes

    Headlines

    A Royal Update

  • Betsy DeVos and the Art of Empty Platitudes

    Arlington News

    Yorktown Student Participates in Sit-In

  • Betsy DeVos and the Art of Empty Platitudes

    Headlines

    What Would We Do Without Wieds?

  • Betsy DeVos and the Art of Empty Platitudes

    Headlines

    OK Strike; Excellent Teachers

  • Betsy DeVos and the Art of Empty Platitudes

    Headlines

    No Clear Path to Reform

The student news site of Yorktown High School
Betsy DeVos and the Art of Empty Platitudes