Education Secretary Betsy DeVos joined me this morning:
HH: Joined by United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Madame Secretary, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show. It’s great to have you.
BD: Thank you, Hugh. Good morning.
HH: It’s a grim morning, and the result is, of course, of a school shooting where 17 are dead and 10 others injured. Secretary DeVos, we have a no-fly list in this country. Ought we not to have a no buy list for students who are obviously troubled, have been expelled, are in mental health programs and who post YouTube videos of the sort that this kid did? Don’t we need a superintendent to be able to go to a police chief and say this kid can’t have a gun?
BD: Well, Hugh, let me first say that I am just heartbroken for all of the families that have been impacted by this. It is just a devastating moment and situation. And there have been far too many of these situations. And my heart just goes out to all of the teachers, the educators, the parents, especially the parents and the families impacted. And you know, there have, apparently were lots of signs. And I think it’s critically important that we have a much more robust conversation around tracking and tackling mental health issues, and really bringing this all together, because it’s clear that, it seems to be clear that this young man put up lots and lots of signals and warning signs.
HH: So let me just be specific so that we can talk about one obvious thing. When you’ve got a killer like this who has done nothing to disguise his intention, wouldn’t it make sense to use the spending authority of the Department of Education to, you know, to require that you’ll get money from us if you have a system in place where your superintendent will have a deal with the local police on one or two or three occasions a year, nothing more, to call out for special observation and maybe probable cause for a warrant search, a child that we believe, or even a young adult, a 19 year old, 20 year old, who is a threat. In other words, to be preemptively engaging the superintendent and the police chief, because right now, everybody runs away from responsibility for these obviously deranged kids.
BD: Well, I think that would be a very important part of the conversation. But I’d like to broaden the question and broaden the discussion and say you know, Congress needs to be holding hearings on these issues. And we’ve seen lots of discussion about this every time we’ve had another incident, we’ve seen you know, lots of finger pointing back and forth. But we need to have a conversation at the level where lawmakers can actually impact the future, because going back to and putting myself in the seat of one of those families impacted, you know, one of these shootings is one too many. And we have got to have an honest conversation, and Congress has to lead on this. It’s their job.
HH: I agree, and I think if they would just get past the talking points down to the problem of specific kids, we’d do a lot. A second suggestion that many of my callers have, Madame Secretary, is that we’ve got thousands of officers in the military who have commanded young men, and they’re always young men who are killers, that we need more schools with more military officers who are credentialed by the federal level. And again, you have the spending authority. You can withhold money from school districts that don’t hire, say, 10% officer veterans. Has anything like that every come across your desk?
BD: Not that, specifically, but I think that, you know, your question there lends itself to a broader conversation around the notion that too many kids today are really stuck in schools that are not working for them. And we need to be able to, we need the kind of freedom in education that is going to allow parents to find schools that fit their child’s learning styles, their personality, and bring about a lot more creativity in how we actually help kids learn and get educated.
HH: You know, the last institution in America with high social acceptability is the military. And the men and women in the military who have commanded young men and women make excellent teachers even if they don’t have an Ed degree. I just believe that they would be a vast improvement in every school, in the right numbers. I’m not saying to replace everyone. It’s something for you to consider. Let me ask you, Madame Secretary, about the NCAA. And I warned your staff that they drive me crazy. I think they threaten the freedom of association of colleges, the freedom of speech, religious rights, civil rights. You have a civil rights division there. Have they ever investigated the NCAA for overreaching and violating the civil rights of these schools?
BD: To my knowledge, that is not under the purview of our office for civil rights. But we have, and are, have open and active investigations in those situations, and I assume you’re referring specifically to the Michigan State case. We have continued investigation and opened new investigations there around what happened there. And as you have rightly pointed out, in this case, all of those things seem to be very interrelated. And it will, I think, be instructive as our investigations unfold as well as all of the others that are targeted at that particular university to really think more broadly about how some of these things can be avoided. All of these things must be avoided in the future. But when you operate in silos, it makes it more and more difficult. So…
BD: It does, your question regarding the NCAA raises very good questions and is one that has to be part of this discussion especially as it relates to this case.
HH: I was actually thinking of North Carolina, where for reasons I don’t want to talk about, but they just acted coercively and said we’re not going to hold any playoffs in North Carolina because of state action. If they’re going to act like a government, they ought to be regulated like a government. And that’s a free speech, freedom of association issue, and I hope your civil rights division would crack down on these people, because they have become unto themselves a very liberal, left-leaning activist organization that drives me crazy. And your civil rights division is supposed to stop that. What about local accreditation operations that are threatening especially religious colleges with their accreditation being revoked, and their student teachers not being able to teach based upon religious beliefs? Again, this is a civil rights division issue.
BD: Well, the whole question of freedom of speech and the ability to openly exchange ideas even if you don’t agree with someone else’s idea is a big issue to be addressed much more broadly. And your example of this reality is an important one. We have, I think, as a culture got to reexamine the foundations on which this country was founded and respect and revere the importance of holding free speech as one of the most important pieces of our nation’s foundation.
HH: Now you’re on your one year anniversary. You’ve gotten a lot, but the problems are mounting. I look at the fentanyl epidemic, and that it’s moving into schools in a way that no one had ever anticipated. What are you doing about that?
BD: Well, the budget for next year has some specific funds carved out for us to be able to look at specific programs that have been effective in states and local communities, and help expand on those. But more broadly, I think, you know, this is an issue that is, it kind of goes hand in glove with you know, what just happened in Florida yesterday. We have some serious cultural issues that we have got to be honest about, and to be talking about in a much more robust way, and to come together with those with whom we disagree to find agreement around what really unites us and what brings us together. The whole opioid epidemic is as much a symptom of a larger problem as it is an actual issue, and certainly one to be addressed and dealt with. But if it’s done in a sort of one-off clinical fashion, it’s going to also miss the bigger point and the larger point, and that is that we have, you know, we have some things to really come together on as a society to reexamine the things that really unite us rather than divide us.
HH: Now let me ask you more broadly, Madame Secretary. What do you even mean by education? What should Americans think when they talk about education?
BD: Well, I think education is clearly the process of learning. And we would argue that it should be and is today a lifelong process. So we start, you know, many parents look at preschools and have their children involved before they get into formal K-12 education, and then there’s higher education beyond that. but the 21st Century suggests that we have a whole, there is a whole new way to be able to learn and to learn, and to continue to gain education throughout life that is going to, that will benefit every individual to pursue the things that they are best wired up to do, and that they are passionate about. And yet, we have a system today, primarily in K-12 world, that continues to operate on a model that was brought to us almost 150 years ago.
BD: And it has not changed substantively since, you know, the very first days of that system.
HH: Yeah, our mutual friend, Dr. Bill Bennett, says is college worth it, and he often thinks our K-12 schools prepare no one for vocational education, even though so many of them are indeed equipped for that and inclined by life to that.
BD: Absolutely. Well, I think we’ve done a disservice for several decades to suggest that in order to be successful as an adult, you must go to a four-year college or university. And yet, we know that there are over 6 million jobs today that require some kind of education beyond high school, but not a four-year degree. And there aren’t enough individuals that are qualified to even take those jobs. So it’s been a mismatch. We have to be much more articulate about the wide range of pathways available to students. I would argue as early as middle school to begin helping students learn and understand all the different options that they have, and to help them find what really works for them and what really excites them and keeps them wanting to pursue their own learning and education.
HH: And a last difficult question, back to Florida. So many of my callers this morning have said we need teachers who are properly trained, whether they are veterans trained by good groups, to be armed on campuses, teachers who know how to use weapons to be allowed to carry. You’re the Secretary of Education. What do you think about that? Again, the assumption is they are very, very well-trained.
BD: Well, I think this is an important issue for all states to grapple with and to tackle. They clearly have the opportunity and the option to do that. And there is, there are differences in how states approach this. I think this needs to be part of the broader, more robust conversation about how can we avoid these things in the future, and how can we ensure that when my child, your child goes to school in the morning, they’re going to go to a safe and nurturing environment, and they’re going to be able to pursue their learning in a way that is going to excite and energize them.
HH: But do you incline one way or the other on the issue? Do you think it is a good idea generally, provided that the training is very specific and the individuals authorized are by character and temperament equipped to handle a weapon on a school?
BD: I think that is a question and an issue for communities to wrestle with. And I’ve seen approaches in different cities done different ways. And again, I think it is one that has to happen at the local level and at the state level. And I think communities need to share best practices and results from the steps that they take to ensure kids have a safe environment in which to learn.
HH: Secretary Betsy DeVos, congratulations on your first year as secretary. Thank you for joining me. Come back.
End of interview.