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Betsy DeVos to Conservative High Schoolers: Are You ‘Bored’ in School?

By Alyson Klein — July 25, 2018 3 min read
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“How many of you have been bored in one or more of your classes?” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asked a crowd of young conservative high school-aged activists Wednesday at the Turning Point USA High School Summit at George Washington University. “How many of you wish you could study a subject, but your school doesn’t offer it? How many of you feel like you need more or less time than your classmates in one or more of your subjects? And how many of you are told there’s nothing you can do about it?”

DeVos used her speech to what organizers billed as the biggest gathering of conservative high school-aged activists in recent history to make the case for her signature policy: school choice.

“No one thinks choice in higher education is wrong. So why is it wrong in elementary, or middle, or high schools?” DeVos asked. “The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with that.” (So far, Congress has rejected most of the Trump administration’s school choice proposals. DeVos has struggled to use the bully pulpit to win new supporters for vouchers, charter schoools, and other choice programs.)

Later, during in an on-stage interview with Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a conservative political organization for high-school and college-age activists, DeVos offered up some advice to young conservatives. Her bottom-line? Be informed and be respectful of people who disagree with you.

“Our ideas are much more positive and compelling and powerful than the other side’s, and you can win on the basis of those compelling ideas and arguments,” DeVos said. “But I think you can win them best if you do from a posture of respect for the other person that you’re talking with and setting the tone that is respectful of that conversation.”

Earlier in the interview, DeVos expounded on her distaste for the federal “bureaucracy.”

“It is hard to get anything done. It takes much longer than it needs to. We’re trying to help make the [education] department and its organization more efficient and more effective to really serve the constituents that we’re supposed to be serving in a much better way.”

Part of that reorganization could involve combining the Education Department with the Labor Department. You can read more here about the Trump administration’s push to reorganize the agency, which has gotten big pushback from advocates.

DeVos was introduced by Kyle Kashuv, a survivor of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. In her remarks, DeVos said she thought that President DonaldTrump took “swift action” after the massacre by setting up the school safety commission, which DeVos heads. Many advocates disagree—arguing that the panel’s work has been slow.

Turning Point USA was founded in 2012 by Kirk to help spread “free market” ideas on college campuses. It has gone in big for Trump and his administration. In fact, Politico Magazine wrote a profile of Kirk last year, calling him “Trump’s Man on Campus.”

DeVos isn’t the only cabinet member to participate in the four-day event. The crowd of high school and college student activists also heard from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He joined students in chanting “lock her up"—a refrain of the attacks on Hillary Clinton, Trump’s rival in the presidential race. Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations also addressed the group.

Photo: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos steps out of the Manhattan High School for Girls on May 15 in New York. DeVos met with students and faculty for several hours at the orthodox Jewish private school.

--Mark Lennihan/AP

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