Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ remarks at the Manhattan Institute’s 2019 Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner.
When I think of this award’s namesake, I can’t help but think of Broadway’s take on . . . Alexander Hamilton.
With or without music, Hamilton’s commitment to our country and our prosperity was unmatched. He noted that our young republic is about more than independence. America is an idea. It’s the revolutionary notion that our rights are not bestowed by man — not a king, not a bureaucrat, nor anyone else.
Our rights are God-given, and they are innately ours.
“The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records,” Hamilton wrote. “They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the Divinity itself; and can never be erased.”
That line may not have made it into a Broadway tune, but it’s music to my ears.
Hamilton’s playwrights probably didn’t expect it when the musical opened, but they turned that theater on 46th Street into a classroom. Unfortunately, too many students know of Hamilton because of the show, not because of their education.
Only about 15 percent of America’s students have a reasonable understanding of American history. And the numbers look just as bleak in other core subjects.
The Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, ranks the United States 24th in reading, 25th in science and 40th in math in the world. And it isn’t for lack of funding. Americans spend more on education per pupil than almost every other nation on Earth does.
And there are many who propose we spend even more on doing the same thing over and over again. Albert Einstein called this “insanity.”
It brings to mind Mayor [Bill] de Blasio’s “Renewal” initiative.
One of the mayor’s signature policies renewed nothing, but it did confirm that more than $750 million in centralized spending doesn’t buy better results.
Education spending, Milton Friedman said, “will be most effective if it relies on parental choice and private initiative.” The godfather of school choice was right then, and he is still right today.
Students deserve something different. And actually doing something different demands courage to confront a powerful and pernicious establishment — one that opposes change in education, as establishments tend to do in every other industry. And let’s not kid ourselves, education is an industry.
Detroit’s automotive giants, for example, began as America’s change agents. But they soon began protecting “what is” at the expense of what could be. Meanwhile, foreign automakers started doing everything Motown was doing, better, faster and cheaper.
The “Big Three” stuck their fingers in their ears as the deafening roar of foreign competition raced toward them. Instead of going head-to-head with their competitors, Detroit’s automakers ran to Washington’s lawmakers to fix their problem.
Look where that got them — and us.
Similarly, a cabal has rooted itself between students and their education to protect “what is” at the expense of what could be.
Their fingers are in their ears, too, refusing to hear the chorus of voices demanding better. Instead of pursuing innovations for students, they pursue protections from politicians for themselves.
It’s a precarious paradox Alexander Hamilton and others warned us about.
The Federalist Papers, to which Hamilton contributed a great deal, cautioned against a tyranny of factions. These groups of agitators jealously protect and advance their own self-interests to the detriment of just about everyone else.
Sound familiar? Education unions, the association of this, the organization of that … those are today’s factions. One of their own, the late Al Shanker, said this: “I don’t see a voice for students in the bargaining process. I think it’s one of the facts of life … the consumer, basically, is left out.”
That union boss admitted then what’s still true today: Factions keep student voices out. But it’s way past time to let them in!
This piece originally appeared at New York Post
Betsy DeVos is the U.S. Secretary of Education.