Making American Education Great Again
By David Isenberg
Written in the spirit of Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here
With the advantage of hindsight, we should have known what was coming when President elect Donald Trump announced his selection of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.
The first clue was her last name. After all, Vos, in Dutch, means fox. And putting a privatizing, deregulating, fanatical charter school advocate like DeVos in charge of a $200 billion plus federal department is, perhaps, the ultimate example of the fox in the henhouse.
At first glance DeVos seemed a strange choice, as she is not a teacher, has not worked in education, and never had her children in public school. But with just a little hindsight, she had all the credentials necessary for a Trump nominee. She has a net worth of $130 million, comes from a family of billionaires and was happy to pay to play in American politics. Since 1970, DeVos family members have invested at least $200 million in a host of right-wing causes.
Furthermore, she was put in charge of the department dedicated to public education, something she has a long record of wanting to destroy.
In short, she was rich, ideologically fanatical and dedicated to the destruction of the department she was charged with managing; a perfect Trump appointee.
But the most telling sign of what was to come was familial; her brother, Erik D. Prince, was cofounder of Blackwater, the storied, private security company which achieved so much notoriety in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The tip-off was her public speech after being confirmed when, after thanking President Trump for giving her the opportunity to make American schools classy again, she said that, just as her brother had successfully brought to bear the unique capabilities of the private sector to help support American warfighting, she intended to use the private sector to help make American education great again.
And, indeed, she wasted no time. Noting that it was impossible to expect children to learn in schools that were often violent and chaotic she said her first priority was to ensure that order and discipline were maintained.
To that end, she hired James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, former CIA contract psychologists who helped design the CIA’s Black Site interrogation techniques to help design a national program for public schools to restore discipline to the classroom and ensure that children would no longer act out. In this effort they were aided by CACI, the firm which had provided interrogators for Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
In fact, she made Mitchell’s book, Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America, part of the Common Core standards. Initially introduced in Texas, thanks to its large student population, it soon became a national bestseller.
Initially, there was some concern from parents who feared their children might be subjected to the same enhanced interrogation techniques, aka torture, that CACI had used in Iraq. But once parents were reassured that CACI no longer used waterboarding, (without mentioning that other techniques, such as punches, slaps, kicks, sleep deprivation, being kept naked, restrained with heavy metal chains, and nonstop playing of loud music and The O’Reilley Factor were still permitted) all objections were dropped.
To further improve discipline DeVos announced that known troublemakers would be subjected to enhanced surveillance. She did this by issuing a contract to of Abraxas, a highly secretive subsidiary, founded by retired CIA operatives, of Cubic Corporation. Abraxas had previously developed a powerful surveillance tool called TrapWire, used to analyze “images from surveillance cameras and other data to try to identify terrorists planning attacks.”
We later found out that DeVos was referred to Cubic by retired Army lieutenant general, Joseph “Keith” Kellogg, a Trump advisor who had previously worked as both vice president of strategic initiatives for Cubic and as president of Abraxas.
DeVos noted at the time that she was just trying to follow the precepts of noted European education advocate Frederick Nietzsche who had famously said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
She also noted that it was long past time that American students stop being mollycoddled, saying that if corporal punishment was good enough for her grandparents and parents it was good enough for her.
She also noted that in many parts of the country students were in terrible physical shape. To change that she worked out an arrangement with the National Football league, giving it an exclusive monopoly to set up Pop Warner football leagues. Attendance was mandatory for all boys.
Furthermore, she was able to work out a deal with such illustrious private security companies as DynCorp and Academi to use their security contractors as physical education instructors. These companies had produced many fine physical specimens overseas, thanks to the freely available steroids that were used
Second, she decided to give academically troubled students a chance to raise their scores by giving them a “safe and secure” place to study. To the delight of deficit hawks in Congress she was able to sign contracts with private correctional corporations such as GeoGroup, which had given campaign contributions to Trump, and CoreCivic formerly the Corrections Corporation of America. As they had spare capacity, since the Obama’s Justice Department had decided to no longer contract with them, they were delighted to be of service. Their stocks jumped 400 percent when Secretary Devos made the announcement.
Third, saying she wanted to improve the quality of teachers by being able to hire and fire at will, something that was hobbled by the tenure and seniority rules of teachers unions, she issued an order, modeled after action taken by St. Ronald of Reaganland who fired 10,000 air traffic controllers in 1981, and brought about the end of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization union, she issued an executive order abolishing teachers unions, such as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
To replace them she created an educational trade association called ISOA (Instructional Stability Operations Association). Its head, Doug Mookcinko, promptly issued a voluntary, unenforceable, code of conduct setting forth best private sector practices that teachers should use in the future. Since none of the provisions in the code had the force of law almost all of the companies bidding to get contracts soon became members.
For example, KBR joined and soon afterwards was issued a cost plus contract to provide school lunches in many cities around the country. True, there was a kerfuffle when it was later revealed that KBR submitted invoices that inflated the cost of provided food by 500 percent. But Devos adroitly handled the fuss, first by firing the department Inspector General who looked into it, and then dismissing all criticism by saying that any company which provides surf and turf to American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan was welcome to serve it in Newark, Detroit, and Atlanta.
ISOA proved to be of great value in helping DeVos achieve, at least rhetorically, her goal of having a more cost-effective education system by utilizing more personnel from the private sector. To that end ISOA’s member companies recruited thousands of low-cost and low-paid, indentured teachers from such countries as El Salvador, Uruguay, Nepal, India, and Honduras. Devos said this would help prepare American students to better compete in today’s multicultural world.
Initially, this presented some difficulties, as many of the teacher spoke abysmal, or no English at all. Fortunately, she was able to get companies, such as Titan and Mission Essential, which had provided translators and linguists to serve with the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, to provide personnel for the schools. Although many of the personnel found themselves disappointed by the low pay and often substandard working conditions they stayed, much to the surprise of many observers. It didn’t come out until much later that they had no choice as the Department of Education seized their passports once they arrived, preventing their return to their home countries. But after working 80 hours a week, six days a week, for five years they were permitted to buy their passports back and return home, if they chose to do so.
But DeVos’s greatest accomplishment is acknowledged to be the steps she took to make American schools safe. Noting that unless students and teachers felt safe nothing else, such as actual education, could take place she moved swiftly to restore order in the public education system.
To that end she negotiated contracts with prominent U.S. security contractors, Academi, DynCorp, SOC-SMG, Triple Canopy, and AirScan (known for its aerial reconnaissance capabilities using drones) to provide both static security in the schools themselves and convoy security for commuting administrators and faculty.
To give her due credit, ever since she instituted these policies there has not been a single school shooting by a student anywhere in the country.
True, there have been numerous cases of security guards shooting students for various reasons, like speaking Ebonics instead of English, and violating the dress code (the jury is still deliberating about the defense strategy of the security contractor who claimed he shot the student because he thought his baggy shirt concealed a suicide bomber’s vest).
And there was the case where a mobile security escort (code name Raven 32) opened fire at a parking lot near a public school, where parents were waiting to pick up their children, when a car backfired, claiming they feared they were under attack. But since the number of killed was less than twenty and it was in Chicago, where bloodletting is considered the norm, the story didn’t last beyond the normal 24-hour news cycle.
But, aside from those, and the usual criticism from liberal publications like The Nation, nobody paid any attention. Admittedly, it didn’t hurt DeVos when her brother Erik Prince, threatened to come out of his lucrative “retirement” helping Chinese Communist state companies extract minerals from Africa, and put an “ass whupping” on anyone who continued to pick on his sister.
Still, educational reform takes time according to noted reformers Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter, who remind us at every possible opportunity that if we only stay the course and give the “Fox” the resources she needs American education will once again be the envy of the world. When exactly that may be remains the subject of continuing debate.
About the Author
David Isenberg is an independent researcher and writer on U.S. military, foreign policy, and national and international security issues. He a senior analyst with the online geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat and is a U.S. Navy veteran. He is the author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq. His blog, The Isenberg Institute of Strategic Satire, focuses on private military and security contracting, a subject he has testified on to Congress.