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DeVos: Encourage Students to Take ‘Calculated Risks’ to Boost Career Paths

By Alyson Klein — January 17, 2019 2 min read
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Schools need to do a better job of helping children explore different types of careers as early as middle school, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said Thursday said during a “fireside chat” at the Gallup Organization hosted by Lemonade Day!, a nonprofit that works to encourage youth entrepreneurship.

“The schools I’ve visited that are most exciting for students” are deliberate about “producing a lot of different career pathways at a young age and giving kids exposure to what some of those possibilities are, starting as young as early middle school and developing opportunities after that for kids to really explore what they’re wired up to do,” DeVos said.

And she said young people need to get a sense, early-on, of what it means to run a business. “There’s very little discussion of what a business is and what businesses do and what kinds of businesses are [out] there,” she said.

Since 1977, fewer Americans have been starting up businesses that employ other people, said Joe Daly, a partner at Gallup who interviewed DeVos. He wanted to know what she saw as the problem and what might be a potential solution.

In response, DeVos said that she believes schools—and parents—have put a premium on protecting students, rather than exposing them to “calculated risk.” And she cited a long-time talking point, arguing that K-12 schools haven’t changed much in past decades. (Many educators dispute that, citing big shake-ups from desegregation to the increased use of technology to “personalize” learning.)

“Generally speaking, younger people have grown up in a more protected environment,” DeVos said. “We’ve heard a lot about helicopter parenting and making sure that nobody gets hurt doing something, and we don’t take too many risks so that we don’t fail. There’s not a lot of real difference in the way we do school today versus decades ago, it’s only more protected and more safe. And so, I think generally speaking, we have to become more OK with taking calculated risks and encouraging young people to try new things and not protect them from everything.”

DeVos, whose late father-in-law, Richard DeVos, co-founded Amway, a multi-level marketing company, also spoke about how her father, Edgar Prince, developed lighted sun-visors for cars. DeVos said she worked at his factory when she was young, inspecting, packing, and shipping the visors.

More recently, DeVos said, her 7-year-old granddaughter, Clara, has been involved in children’s business fairs. She and her friend had a booth selling bath-bombs and lip balms that they made themselves.

DeVos appeared to be using a wheelchair on stage. She explained that she recently had a bicycle accident and broke her pelvis.

Want to learn more about Lemonade Day and youth entrepreneurship? Check out this great story by my colleague, Sarah Sparks.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos listens to a question during a student town hall at National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Sept. 17.--Matt Rourke/AP

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