Betsy DeVos: Be Afraid, Very Afraid

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Trump picks Betsy DeVos for education secretary, a choice so bat shit crazy it makes his other picks look sane. (Image courtesy of CNN)

Many Americans think of Betsy DeVos as Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, a fierce critic of public schools and advocate of Charter and home schooling. A few of us, those who (like former Scientologists) fled our Amway distributorships, know her metaphorically as another Jim Jones’ wife, prepared to deliver the Kool Aid on a moment’s notice.

Of all Trump’s cabinet nominees, DeVos may have the most family money. Her father was a wealthy industrialist. Her brother, Erik Prince, founded the notorious Blackwater private security firm (Keeping America less than safe in exchange for our tax dollars). [1]

The Circle jerk

I drew those circles three nights a week for a year in graduate school because my wife (first wife, thank God) thought I made too little money teaching classes for two different colleges while researching my coursework. Some nights I drove ninety miles to pitch a prospect, making it home by two in the morning, just in time to read another hundred pages for my classes. I never earned my first little pin.

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Millions of distributors, including me, have drawn these circles since the sixties to lure unsuspecting friends and acquaintances toward their trillion year old Thetan bodies. Oh, wait, that’s Scientology. But they’re both cults. Double Diamond or Thetan, little difference. (Image courtesy of Elias Bachaalany lallouslab.net.)

Instead we funneled the few dollars we earned, and six times that from my teaching money, into motivational books and tapes. Every other month we spent forty bucks apiece to attend a regional rally (twenty for the rallies closer to home), shelling out another forty apiece to share a hotel room with three or four other distributors only slightly off than us. I roomed with the men, her with women. Oh, yes, and we pitched in for gas and spent our own money on meals at restaurants chosen by the gold, or diamond pin in our “upline.”

Nothing scared me more than those rallies, or should I say worship services. That’s right, worship services that included song singing, testimony and sermons. Pentecostal sermons with fringe right themes. Sermons that would scare Steve Bannon into embracing Trotskyism. (My only joy was singing “This Land is Your Land” with a thousand right wingers who never suspected Woody Guthrie was a socialist.)

The DeVos family never attended these rallies. A meeting with the DeVos family was a reward, like heaven, reserved for the privileged few, diamond direct distributors who successfully spread the Amway philosophy to thousands of unsuspecting souls.

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Unsuspecting souls paid $40 a person when I was a distributor in the eighties (probably two hundred now) to expose themselves to far right evangelical ideology. (Image courtesy of Amway.)

Instead the DeVos family raked in the money from those rallies and used it to fund candidates and think tanks whose only purpose was to move Americans further to the right. And to support politicians who would pay them back with political favors, such as a cabinet post.

Betsy made no bones about it. She used their money to curry favor. She once bragged, “My family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence….They are right.” [2]

Extreme Puritanism

Their message, you can only be saved through Jesus and hard work, specifically the work of selling soap (and protein bars, and air freshener, and blenders, and anything else Amway could overprice and sell in their catalog). And they perpetuated the message by having distributors call (now text) their “downline” to tell them how great the life is in the promised land, and ask you what was keeping you away.

Standing directly in the way of your salvation? Democrats, liberals, secular humanists, the baby killers and Hollywood influenced society. Sound like the John Birch Society (not to mention most rhetoric from today’s GOP)? You shouldn’t be surprised. You shouldn’t be surprised. Half my family are from that area, and also proud members. Birch was gaining influence at the same time DeVos’ father-in-law and Jay Van Andel first set up their soap supply line, and dumped unordered cases on their distributors with the message, “Sell it. It will be good for you.” [3]

At rally after rally I heard about the real history of America, a history that didn’t exist outside of Plymouth colony and their Calvinist descendants. There, the founders of America, anointed by God, drew up the Mayflower Compact which inspired our glorious Constitution, ruined only by the southerners and their Bill of Rights. Any divergence from the vision of those brave colonists can only undermine the solid foundation they provided.

I would listen to this and say, “But the colonies developed in a different direction in the South. Many of those immigrants were impressed labor, Catholic or barely religious at all. And what about the colonies that broke off in dissent from the Puritans? The Quakers, Roger Whitfield?”

I had my history wrong, they would tell me. God blessed the Puritans. The rest sent the nation into decline. In the Amway world, Thomas Jefferson never trimmed references to divinity from his Gospels and didn’t influence God’s Manifest Destiny in America anyway.

In Puritan America, the Amway ideal, no one speaks in dissent, every baby comes to term, and homosexuals gave up their rights as soon as they kissed a girl (or guy) and liked it. We would have won Vietnam were it not for the hippies, the Civil Rights movement was a black mark on American history (no pun intended), and had they not undermined the course of America in the sixties, we would still be an American power, flying our flags from sea to shining sea.

I listened to this for a year. As a scholar and former championship debater, I tried to rationalize some version of this nonsense with my own convictions. After a year I realized I couldn’t. Amway’s message to America was bat shit crazy. I shared my concerns with my sponsor (who wavered on the questions) and my Gold distributor (who bought it wholesale), only to be told, “If you can’t get with the agenda, you’ll never make it as an Amway distributor.”

I noticed that the difference between us was our level of education and how widely we read. I was in grad school and read everything from Joyce, to William Buckley to Howard Zinn’s Peoples’ History. My sponsor graduated from college, went to work as a drug rep, and read speculative science fiction and fantasy. My Gold distributor dropped out of high school and admitted that he only read “Amway authorized books and tapes.” Oh, “and the Bible.”

I asked him how many times he’d read the Bible. “You know, bits, here and there. The verses in the books and tapes.” Being a Baptist Preacher’s kid, I’d read it three times.

Notice a trend?

I told my wife I was getting out. All she did was listen to takes and take the few orders we received anyway. (She moved out three months later.)

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Another, more accurate version of the Amway circles. (Image courtesy of David Brear.

Why private education?

Given these viewpoints, it should be no surprise that DeVos advocates demolishing our public school system. The Amway version of history is contradicted by our school textbooks on every page. If a child were to pay attention, they might question the home version.

But quality education is the last goal of the DeVos Agenda. An Atlantic Reporter reviewed the language of Michigan’s Charter regulations, “reforms” that DeVos pushed through. [4]

  • Allowing oversight organizations to permit failing schools to reopen by admitting different grade levels (e.g., a high school reinvents itself as an elementary school).
  • Oversight bodies can rescind the closure notice for failing schools simply by declaring them necessary to their students’ welfare.
  • Unless a public school district oversees the charter, the supervising body is allowed to keep failing charters open (which they have a financial incentive to do, since they receive a percentage of their funding).
  • The supervising board can keep a failing school open by contracting with a different provider (who may very well run other failing schools).

If DeVos has her way, the fringe right can take federal funds to subsidize “charter school education.” In fact, fringe right families will use the money to pay for private Christian schools, where students don’t have to undergo standardized testing after they graduate. (Bet you didn’t know that.”

Those private schools and home schools teach “a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues.” [5]

Lemon Rating: Moldy Blue

Trump picked some lemons for his cabinet. DeVos rates as the worst. You know it’s true when even Republicans plan to break ranks and vote against her. We can only hope one more bolts because, when it comes to lemons, Betsy DeVos is back of your refrigerator for weeks blue. So blue she’s breaking into a puddle of blue. We need to stop her before the entire school system reeks of blue lemon.

___________________________________________________________________

  1. Scahill, Jeremy (2008). Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Arm. Nation Books. ASIN B0097CYTYA.
  2. Deruy, Emily (January 17, 2017). “What Betsy DeVos Did (and Didn’t) Reveal About Her Education Priorities”. The Atlantic. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  3. I remember this anecdote, told as a good thing, from a tape by a double diamond distributor that was dumped on me, unordered, with the message, “Buy it. It will be good for you.”
  4. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/01/betsy-devoss-accountability-problem/513047/.
  5. Cathcart, Corrine (November 23, 2016). “Betsy DeVos: Everything You Need to Know”. ABC News. Retrieved January 28, 2017.

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Living metaphor. Follow me @stephens_pt.

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