Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Jan 22, 2017 at 01:46:41 PM EST
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If you haven't I strongly urge you to read her work, here, here, and here. DeVos, President Trump's choice for Secretary of the Department of Education, is not there to strengthen that governmental agency but essentially, to destroy it. Indeed, her motives have been clear for a long time. DeVos's family related philanthropies are longtime funders of Christian Right projects, particularly in the area of school privatization. Politico reports that DeVos has said her work in education is intended to "advance God's kingdom."  
DeVos's approach is one of the contemporary mindset that mixes libertarianism with the Christian Right agenda that has become dogma for contemporary conservatism. To that end, they claim that their approach is "liberty." But another great American had a different term for it: Mudsill.

In a stunningly awful performance at her confirmation hearing before a select U.S. Senate committee , DeVos displayed an incredible lack of familiarity with basic terminology of educational principles. As senator after senator cross-examined her she exposed herself as a person unfit for her position.

Normally, this would be grounds for a president to withdraw her nomination. But it may be that  she may be precisely the type of department head desired by many modern conservatives. DeVos has no interest in strengthening public education but in eviscerating it.

As Rachel Tabachnick observed:

[Dick] DeVos and his wife Betsy had already spent millions promoting voucher initiatives that were soundly rejected by voters.  Pro-privatization think tanks had concluded that vouchers were the most politically viable way to "dismantle" public schools; the DeVoses persevered.  Dick DeVos introduced his 2002 Heritage Foundation audience to a covert strategy to provide "rewards or consequences" to state legislators, learning from the activities of the Great Lake Education Project (GLEP) initiated by Betsy DeVos. Vouchers should be promoted by local "grass roots" entities and could not be "viewed as only a conservative idea."  DeVos added, "This has got to be the battle.  It will not be as visible."

There may be more than just an outright hostility towards public education at play here. Indeed, this is nothing less than libertarianism on steroids. I would suggest that this belief in private education is part of a more hierarchical, oligarchic conservatism. Contrary to the popular notion that conservatism is about independence it is in actuality more about creating a less knowledgeable working class.

As I have written in an earlier post:

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a "mudsill" as 1. a supporting sill (as of a building or bridge) resting directly on a base and especially the earth; 2. a person of the lowest social level). The economic theory gets its name from an 1858 defense of slavery by South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond.

"In all societies that must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life," Hammond declared. He further argued that this perennial underclass is necessary for the rest of society to move forward. He said that this class requires "a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites," he said, "are vigor, docility, fidelity." Hammond insisted that such a class is necessary to support "that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mud-sill."

This view of economics and government brings us back to the origins of the Mudsill theory, which was primarily a justification of slavery that, in turn, is the root of modern libertarianism.  "Mudsillism" allows for the select few to use other human beings to generate wealth without providing just compensation.  And although we don't call it that, Mudsillism is resurgent in America as wages are stagnant or in decline despite the increases in worker productivity.  Increasingly, average Americans work longer and harder while shareholders and executives are rewarded far beyond their contributions. And personal indebtedness to financial institutions replaces wages that, in turn, replaces liberty with dependence. Indeed, if libertarian economics were to prevail, the result would be local theocracies, restricted education, and the hierarchical economic castes.

And restricted education is a cornerstone element of Mudsillism. This is so self-evident that in a speech given in September 1859 Abraham Lincoln identified this threat. In that address Lincoln got right to the point:

By the "mud-sill" theory it is assumed that labor and education are incompatible; and any practical combination of them impossible. According to that theory, a blind horse upon a treadmill, is a perfect illustration of what a laborer should be--all the better for being blind, that he could not kick understandingly. According to that theory, the education of laborers, is not only useless, but pernicious and dangerous. In fact, it is, in some sort, deemed a misfortune that laborers should have heads at all. Those same heads are regarded as explosive materials, only to be safely kept in damp places, as far as possible from that peculiar sort of fire which ignites them. A Yankee who could invent strong handed man without a head would receive the everlasting gratitude of the "mud-sill" advocates.

Lincoln went on to attack Hammond's Mudsill-based opposition to universal education. He observed, "According to that theory, the education of laborers, is not only useless, but pernicious and dangerous." But Lincoln did not fear an educated working class. Indeed, he boldly enunciated what would become a core belief of contemporary liberalism, stating, "In one word Free Labor insists on universal education."

Lincoln knew that in the absence of universal education, access to better knowledge and skills is a privilege accorded to the few who can afford to buy it, and that the result was greater economic inequality. This means that a greater segment is suited to only the most menial tasks. Doing away with public education is one of the surest ways to ensure that most less-affluent Americans become that "blind horse upon a tread-mill."

And indeed privatization does make for a more ignorant working class. It doles the ability to think critically and make complex decisions. As a recent post in Bob Somerby's Daily Howler website indicated, DeVos's methods have had catastrophic results. Her methods were applied in the state of Michigan. And since those methods were introduced in 2002 student performance results dropped like a rock.

Let us heed Lincoln's warning. What Betsy DeVos advocates is neither liberty nor freedom. It is not even an improvement in delivering educational services. It is instead, Mudsill - a direct route to making the American worker be nothing more than "a blind horse upon a treadmill." But more importantly, it is precisely why Betsy DeVos has no business being the Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education.




Display:
That DeVos and like Ilk (as supporters of Christian Reconstructionism) are also followers (directly or indirectly) of Rushdoony and his teachings -and the things he wrote about education.

Re-education camps and worse for educators who don't teach "from a Biblical perspective"

The connections to slavery are closer than Mudsillism.  (Not a bad term, BTW!)  Again, see Rushdoony.

Oh, and I recently read that there was a call (from the right) to "reclaim Lincoln!".  I don't remember where I read it, but if I run into it again, I'll post it.  I wonder what they'd make of those quotes from Lincoln!  (I did some quick Googling, and it may tie into the attempt by Republicans to 'reclaim Lincoln" from attacks by Libertarians - but that's not what I remember.)

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Jan 22, 2017 at 02:08:13 PM EST


Despite Betsy DeVos's theocratic and oligarchic view of education, she probably will get confirmed by the GOP dominated Senate. Indeed, she contributed money to the campaigns of several GOP senators. Why have we so totally abandoned any commitment to the common good?


by khughes1963 on Sun Jan 22, 2017 at 03:39:26 PM EST
For the audience to whom Trump and his cohort appeal - that is, those who never accepted the legitimacy of a Black man's being president and who are terrified by the shifting demographics in the U.S. - the "common good" means education and improved living standards for precisely that part of the populace whom they find most threatening. Thus working for the common good seems to them to be contradictory to their own self-interest; indeed, to their very survival.

by MLouise on Sun Jan 22, 2017 at 05:28:57 PM EST
Parent


On what do you base your conclusion that Betsy DeVos believes that workers should not be educated at all?

The DeVoses do seem to be involved in Christian Reconstructionism, which is very scary in and of itself.  And I certainly agree that an opponent of public education should not be Secretary of Education.

However, I suspect that it's inaccurate to equate the DeVoses' view with Mudsillism, or with the idea that workers should not be educated at all.  The DeVoses are leading figures in the midwest Dutch immigrant culture, which tends to be very right wing but, at the same time, very different from traditional Southern culture.

Southern culture, with its roots in slavery, tends to have a strong authoritarian streak and to be big on maintaining social hierarchies.  Thus it would not surprise me at all if some southern ultra-reactionaries were against the idea of mass education in general, not just the idea of secular public schools.  (It also would not surprise me if some California ultra-libertarians too were against the idea of mass education in general.)

Midwestern culture, on the other hand, is much more egalitarian -- at least superficially, despite the anti-egalitarian consequences of the free-market/anti-union ideology that is also popular there (a bit hypocritically so, given that farm subsidies and federal crop insurance are, naturally, also popular).  The midwest was settled largely by small farmers who were able to buy land very cheaply back in the mid-1800's.  To this day, lots of people in the midwest own small farms.  I'm somewhat familiar with midwestern Dutch immigrant culture because my mother grew up there.

The Dutch immigrants were also Calvinists.  As such, they and their descendants typically believe in "Sola Scriptura."  A consequence of "Sola Scriptura" is that everyone has an obligation to read the Bible -- and, therefore, a right to be educated at least enough to be able to read the Bible.  Hence the idea that workers should not be educated at all would be anathema.  Indeed the very idea of public education in the U.S.A. was originated, back in colonial times, by the Puritans, who were also Calvinists.  (See the first item on this historical timeline of public education in the USA.)

Even today's most extreme right wing Calvinists -- the Christian Reconstructionists -- do NOT say that there is a class of people who should not be educated.  Rather, they believe that education should properly be the responsibility of the church and family, not the state.  They don't want their children attending public schools because they don't want their children exposed to non-Christian influences.  See, for example, Education and the Church on the website of the Chalcedon Foundation (the originating think tank of Christian Reconstructionism).

Of course, in a world where education was solely the responsibility of churches and families, poor nonbelievers would have no educational opportunities at all.  But the Christian Reconstructionists' end goal is a theocracy where no one would be free to express nonbelief anyway -- i.e. a world in which nonbelievers simply don't exist, NOT a world where nonbelievers constitute an uneducated underclass.

So I'm wondering where you get the idea that Betsy DeVos specifically wants there to be an uneducated underclass.  I didn't find any evidence of this on any of the pages you linked to, although they do show that she is gung ho for school privatization and apparently has lots of generally bad ideas about education.


by Diane Vera on Mon Jan 23, 2017 at 12:11:55 PM EST


Just as Betsy DeVos had knowledge only to destroy public education she had little information on, so do they want us to be very narrowly educated. Why the Education Corporations have devised tests that they want teachers to only teach to that and nothing else. Eventually all teachers will need is to be as limited as their students will be if said "education corps" get their way. That would be reducing the teaching profession to a poorly paid rout learning monitors like cards in a deck. Though I do wonder how they expect to keep up their modern life styles and military-industrial-espionage complex running? They would have to find those of higher mentality to educate and place in high tech jobs they will need filled and not trust foreign (not white) people to be in charge of it. Even paying them more to get what they pay for. It depends on who is in charge of their various projects and to who would ultimately be Plutocrats who use the elites or Oligarchs to run it for them.

Of course with so many more people than they need, for those of us who think the way we do would not be wanted. Depending on how imaginative, and murderous as to what will happen to us. Probably take awhile to run through the entire population of over 330 million of us which they will do eventually if they have the chance. Think of a more mature Nazi version of things red blood American Apple Pie Authoritarianism with a psychopathic touch to be able to torture and murder anyone they please. Where human life isn't a total precious commodity. Where the ones looked upon as evil and as the Inquisition did (mostly) killing was the right thing to do to stop the evil as they see it.

by Nightgaunt on Sun Jan 29, 2017 at 02:48:48 PM EST

about the early educational systems in this country (largely local, county, or state-run), that was largely what they were teaching.  LOTS of rote (what I call 'puking information') and not much analysis unless it was focused on supporting the status quo.  Lots of school systems used the Bible or taught from books that referenced the Bible - and supported the Status Quo. (I remember the Dick and Jane book from my childhood - although I learned to read years before that by reading signs.)

Only the rich got the education that would enable them to think critically, but even that was generally focused on the rich getting richer while the rest of the populace... didn't.  They didn't like it when people started resisting the status quo - it took visionaries like "Papa" Franz Boas and his students to start disputing most of which was taught as a "given" during that period.  They (the schools) also liked the money that came in from (for instance) the GI bill, but weren't too happy about middle class people learning enough to see through the BS.

That's why Tenure has been under attack for so many years, and why we have to be so protective of Academic Freedom.

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Jan 31, 2017 at 02:08:07 PM EST
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