The Daily Wire recently sat down with former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to discuss her new book “Hostages No More: The Fight For Education Freedom And The Future Of The American Child.”
DW: Secretary DeVos, thank you for joining The Daily Wire. Your new book opens by reflecting on Glenn Youngkin’s surprise win in the race for Governor of Virginia. Why was that an important race?
DeVos: Well, I think what happened in that Virginia race really brought into focus for many people what they were sort of feeling and noticing, and when Terry McAuliffe doubled down on his statement that no parents really should be involved in their kids’ education, many people thought he would roll it back. No. Instead, he doubled down by having Randi Weingarten as his capper to the last night of his campaign. It really set up a clear delineation for folks. He really personified the Democrats’ position — that they really do fall in lockstep with the teachers union. Many parents realized the last two years they’re really not in charge, and so that race kind of helped bring all that into focus in a major way.
DW: What’s taking place today in Loudoun County, Virginia, is reminiscent of the battles Former Governor Scott Walker faced in Wisconsin with the teachers unions. Do you think we will see more of these battles?
DeVos: I do. We’ve seen a lot of the head-to-head in a number of states over the years, and I think that’s going to continue to accelerate. The status quo — teachers and school unions and all of their allies — they’ve continued to double down on their position, which is: do not allow any kind of competition to what we’ve got going here. In fact, their attacks on charter schools — which are, as we know, a form of choice — have continued to look at charters as something to be rolled back and defeated, if possible, and they have a complicit administration in Washington, D.C. right now. The First Lady is a member of the NEA, and my successor put into the office of the Secretary of Education — the secretary’s personal office — a teachers union liaison as a staff position. So, it shows where the priorities are.
DW: We’ve all heard about ‘The Swamp’ in Washington, D.C. over the years. What was your experience with ‘The Swamp’?
DeVos: Well, I knew that a federal agency would be a large bureaucracy. I did not fully appreciate, until I started working there, how formidable the bureaucracy is and how they really can thwart you accomplishing a lot of things. I cite several examples, in the book, of mind-boggling ways in which the simplest of tasks and simplest of things were thwarted. It was really revealing in that way, but also convicting to me about how out-of-touch and how overgrown the federal workforce has become. There were good people who were career staffers in the department, and we found a number who worked well together, but the vast majority you could almost feel the animosity that radiated from them.
DW: You recently recorded the audiobook version of “Hostages No More.” How long did it take to record the book?
DeVos: It took six days, four to seven hours a day, depending on what segments we were doing. Never having done it before, I didn’t really know what to expect. It was part of my lifelong learning experience! It really was fun, but it was also very fatiguing. I would say I probably like doing it, but I don’t love public speaking. I did stand the entire time because I knew that would be better for energy and breath.
DW: What is your message to young conservatives today?
DeVos: I actually articulated a number of those things in my book, specifically with regard to education. Let me echo a couple of them here. First of all, if they are young parents and are frustrated with what their options are, they should, number one, make sure that they’re supporting candidates for office that actually support education freedom policy — and then hold them to that.
Number two, they can start a school. They can start with themselves, and they can do that best if they are empowered with the resources that are going to be spent on their child anyway — if they have the ability to control those resources.
We’ve seen a dramatic increase in homeschoolers in the last year-and-a-half. I actually think that’s a very positive thing, because I think we’re going to see a lot more creativity and a lot higher quality experience for the families that have chosen that direction. We need to just make sure that policy is going to support and encourage those who want to pursue that direction.
DW: You use the term ‘freedom’ throughout the book. Why?
DeVos: I talk about it as ‘education freedom,’ as opposed to ‘school choice,’ because I think education freedom is a much more expansive term that can encompass a whole lot more than what you immediately think of when you talk about school choice. Because school choice, in most people’s minds, designates another building. It doesn’t mean building a whole bunch of other buildings; it means really getting creative about how education is delivered to kids in their K-12 years.
It really opens the door to customization of a child’s education. Some of the education reformers will refer to as ‘unbundling.’ In other words, you don’t go to school five days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and then have three months off. You really look at what things you need to learn as your core subject areas and what things you’re most interested in learning, and then you figure out the best way and/or place to learn those things. It could be in the form of an apprenticeship that you start at middle school age.
In West Michigan there’s a school that is an outdoor school, so kids are outdoors all day for their education. They choose to go there, and they love it. The teachers choose to teach there, and they love it. I use it as an example of ways to think differently.
DW: Who do you hope to reach with this new book?
DeVos: I hope that any parent who is concerned about their kids’ education and has an interest in seeing something different or better will look at this and read it. I hope that people who have a negative view of me — because of everything that was reported and/or how I was characterized — will look at it with an open mind. I tell a lot of stories about the experiences I had while in office. The great schools we focused on visiting, schools that were doing things differently and meeting kids’ needs and different ways. I would hope that readers would also become convicted to help be a part of changing policy to support education freedom for all kids.
Betsy DeVos served as the 11th U.S. Secretary of Education from 2017-2021. Her new book “Hostages No More: The Fight For Education Freedom And The Future Of The American Child” (Center Street, June 2022) is now available on Amazon.com.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not represent those of The Daily Wire.